With 3 months to go until the public law sections of the Children and Families Act 2014 goes live, it is crucial that the emerging issues for children are widely understood.
The change I want to highlight is the speed with which the average care application is now being completed. It stands at just over 30 weeks, compared to double that two years ago. A halving of the time a case takes in court gives the average child subject to care proceedings an extra 6 months less in limbo. Of course, this only makes sense if the speed with which the child can be placed securely and safely with permanent carers, whether back home, with relatives or with approved carers outside of the family network, is also faster.
If new children simply join the 4,000 plus children on Placement Orders who still don't have permanent carers and homes of their own, the greater speed in the family courts will count for little. However, we have clearly begun to replace a culture of delay in the family courts with a culture of urgency. That is a huge shift in operational culture which we can build on in the years to come. The fact that the 26 week limit for care cases will have been met for new cases in advance of the law changing is a testimony to all those practitioners in the family justice system who have worked hard to bring it about. I do not believe the fears about miscarriages of justice to parents by completing cases quicker are borne out. 26 weeks is still a very long time in a child's life.
If parents who have abused or severely neglected their children are to keep them or have them back, they must demonstrate an ability to change, with support, in a matter of months, not years. Yes, parents must be well supported but so must children - by a family court system that protects them against the risks of miscarriages of justice. If their cases remain unresolved or if they stay marooned in a long drawn out court case, or equally marooned in a short-term placement with no permanent placement in sight, in those all too frequent scenarios, children can easily lose their sense of hope and trust.