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Shorter timescales in care proceedings improve children’s outcomes

Shorter timescales for care proceedings have had a positive effect on children, according to research.

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The Public Law Outline 2014 introduced a 26 week timeline for care proceedings and the results have impacted positively on children, research by the University of East Anglia has found.

Prior to the national changes introduced by the Public Law Outline, the Tri-borough authorities in London - Hammersmith & Fulham, Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea - launched a pilot project to try to hit the 26 week target. It ran from April 2012 to March 2013 and the project was evaluated by a team from the University of East Anglia’s Centre for Research on Children and Families.

The original evaluation compared the timings and outcomes of care proceedings in the pre-pilot year 2011-12 and the pilot year 2012-13. The follow-up study aimed to assess whether or not delay had shifted to the post-court stage, and whether the new regime led to different long-term outcomes.

The follow up study had four main findings:

  • Children were not left waiting for a placement

Reducing the duration of care proceedings did not mean that more children were left waiting for a permanent placement at the end of the proceedings. In fact, a slightly higher proportion of children in the pilot year were already in their planned permanent placement at the end of the proceedings (65% compared to 60% the year before).

  • No extra delay

For those who did need to move to a permanent placement afterwards, the focus on shorter care proceedings did not lead to extra delay here. In fact, the average duration fell from 30 weeks to 14, a reduction of over 50%.

  • Breakdowns declined

The incidence of ‘serious problem indicators’ (e.g. breakdowns in permanent placements, renewed child protection concerns) declined for children from the pilot cohort compared to the pre-pilot cohort. This suggests that quicker decision-making processes do not necessarily lead to less stable placements for children and the focus on good decision-making can lead to more secure outcomes.

  • Results were positive

Shorter care proceedings did not result in more children living away from their families. The most frequent type of final placement for children in both cohorts was with their parent(s) followed by placements with relatives or friends.

Cafcass Chief Executive Anthony Douglas said: “Unnecessary delays in care proceedings mean that children have to live with insecurity and uncertainty, and this can impact on their chance of stability and permanence. This important report shows how the Tri-borough has made it possible to combine faster family justice with safe and positive outcomes for children. Our task now is to find ways to reach this level of performance throughout the country, so it becomes the professional norm.”

The full report, Outcomes for children of shorter court decision-making processes: A follow-up study of the Tri-borough care proceedings pilot, is available on the University East Anglia’s Centre for Research on Children and Families (CRCF) website.

 

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