There is unlikely to be an improvement in the average length of time for care proceedings until courts are fully open and operation, children’s services directors have warned.
The Association of Directors of Children’s Services warns that the 26 week deadline will likely not be met in cases until courts are operating as they were pre-pandemic.
Between January and March 2021, the average time for a care and supervision case to reach first disposal was 43 weeks, up 8 weeks from the same quarter in 2020 and the highest average since mid-2012.
Ministry of Justice figures showed that the average time for a care and supervision case to reach first disposal is at the highest point in nine years.
Just 22% of the care proceedings were disposed of within the 26-week limit introduced in the Children and Families Act 2014, down 14 percentage points from the same period last year.
In the Ministry of Justice report, the statistician said: “The recovery from the impact of Covid-19 continues to be seen across family court activity data this quarter, with increases in the number of new cases started across most case types as well as increases in the number of disposed cases across most areas compared to the same time last year, at the start of the pandemic in the UK. The impacts on timeliness measures continue to be felt, particularly for delays to care proceedings, with work continuing to address the impact to the family justice system.”
Responding to the MoJ report Chair of the ADCS Communities and Young People Policy Committee, Sara Tough, said: “These latest family court statistics are yet another reminder of how the impact of Covid-19 continues to be felt. Clearly, when considering these statistics, we must take into account the significant disruption to the work of the courts as a result of the pandemic.
“The courts are ensuring that hearings are conducted in a covid-safe way which can cause delays, for example the use of remote hearings often take longer and are not well suited to complex, contested hearings. Everyone within the system is working tirelessly and rightly trying to prioritise children but under the current national restrictions this adds extra difficulties."
ADCS remains in regular discussion with government, Cafcass and judiciary regarding this issue, added Ms Tough, however, significant improvement in the length of time care proceedings are taking are likely to improve until the courts are fully open and operating as normal, before the pandemic struck.
“We know that timeliness is important to children in progressing permanence plans and we are all committed to doing this as best we can, however, our main aim should always be meeting the individual needs of a child or young person, even if this falls outside of the 26 week limit,” she concluded.