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Care Proceedings Review Published
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The DFES/DCA care proceedings review was published in May 2006. The Review of the Child Care Proceedings System in England and Wales encourages early intervention to find resolutions before cases reach court and when cases do proceed to court, identifies ways to improve the quality of local authority applications. The review proposes that:
- local authorities write in plain English to the family and give the reasons for applying to court to take the children into care and provide a copy of the interim care plan;
- authorities should enable families to get independent legal advice earlier by provision of contact details for local Children Panel solicitors;
- all safe and appropriate alternatives should be explored before court proceedings are started. In some cases this might include placement with other family members or providing support through Family Group Conferences to discuss all aspects of the family situation;
- guidance and best practice on case preparation should be written up in one document and used by all local authorities;
- local authorities should ensure that they follow statutory guidance and ensure cases are ready for proceedings before applications are made;
- case management in the courts should be improved;
- work is be carried out on whether joint targets and funds could encourage closer working relationships, joint planning and shared priorities between the various agencies involved.
The DCA and DfES are preparing detailed plans to implement the proposals and a Ministerial Group is being set up to ensure that the recommendations are implemented. The Reviews authors are aware that the ongoing issues highlighted in the paper have been analysed many times before and that more needs to be done to ensure that recommendations for change made it off the page and into practice: 'a concerted effort [has to be] made to implement its recommendations over time, building on the many examples of existing good practice. In addition, the impacts of any changes to the system needed to be monitored as there was currently insufficient performance management data to measure change'.
Where the recommendations are concerned with legal aid, they are subject to the final report by Lord Carter of Coles, who is conducting an independent review of legal aid procurement. The final report by Lord Carter was expected imminently and would make recommendations on family legal aid.
The Review's proposals fall into five areas.
- 1. Helping families
- 2. Better informed resolution
- 3. Preparation for Proceedings
- 4. During proceedings
- 5. Inter-agency working
The review is published on the DCA website at: http://www.dca.gov.uk/laid/childcare.htm.
An article by Alison Burt of Bindmans, solicitors, on the implications of the Review for practitioners will be published in August  Fam Law.