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Family support encouraged as deprivation of liberty cases involving children soar

There have been 237 applications to the national deprivation of liberty (DoLs) court in the first two months of its operation seeking authorisation to deprive children of their liberty – 101 applications in July and 136 in August.

The President of the Family Division launched the DoLs court based at the Royal Courts of Justice in July 2022, to deal with all new applications seeking authorisation to deprive children of their liberty under the inherent jurisdiction and will run for a 12-month pilot phase initially.

Nuffield Family Justice Observatory was invited to collect and publish data on these applications after previous research by Nuffield FJO found that the number of applications to deprive children of their liberty under the inherent jurisdiction had increased by 462% in the three years to 2020/21.

Despite this increase, children subject to deprivation of liberty orders do not currently appear in published administrative data or records.

Children in England and Wales can be deprived of their liberty for welfare (risks to their safety), youth justice or mental health reasons, and placed in secure children’s homes, young offender institutions, secure training centres or mental health in-patient wards. An increasing number of children are also being deprived of their liberty in unregistered placements.

When a place for a child cannot be found in a welfare, youth justice or mental health setting, the High Court can use the powers under its inherent jurisdiction to deprive a child of their liberty in an unregulated placement.

Head of Services at WillisPalmer, Dave Wareham, said: “It is of grave concern that there is such an increase in the number of applications for children to be deprived of their liberty, particularly when they are then placed in unregulated placements. These are vulnerable young people and should be supported appropriately.”

The applications made in July and August were made by 96 different local authorities and 5 hospital or mental health trusts.

The majority of these cases – a quarter - were made by local authorities in the North West of England, followed by 15.4% of applications from London and 11.5% from the South West.

Most of the children who were having applications made for were aged 16 (24.7%), 23.3% were 15 years old and 21.6% were aged 14. The data shows that 4% of cases were for children aged 10-11 years old.

The applications were split evenly by gender with 50.6% being made for girls and 49.4% for boys.

Dave Wareham added: “When matters come to this point where applications are being made for a child to be deprived of their liberty, then it is crisis point and extreme measures are being put in place.”

“The recent independent review of children’s social care and The Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel’s review into circumstances around Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson’s deaths both highlighted the importance of family support work and getting involved with families earlier to prevent issues reaching crisis point.”

“Historic cuts to local authority children’s services means budgets are targeted on those crisis cases  leaving limited funding available to do the preventive work. However, preventive work with families prevents problems from escalating and so is better for families and also cheaper in the longer term.”

“Our Family Support service works with families facing challenges to put help, support and guidance in place with the aim of keeping families together. This might mean working with a new teenage mother with additional needs who is experiencing difficulties. But this work early on, guiding her and providing practical support can enable the family to learn and gain confidence rather than the problems getting worse and perhaps ending up in a case of neglect.”

“Family support can be a huge help to many families and definitely works out to be more cost-effective and better for families in the long-term,” concluded Dave.

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