The time it takes for a family court in Wales to decide whether a child should be placed in the care of a local authority has been cut by more than than half, with nearly 77% of cases completed within a new 26-week time limit, a new report shows.
The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service Cymru (CAFCASS Cymru) is playing a key role in care proceedings by helping to cut the average completion time from 57 weeks in 2011-12 to less than 26 in 2014-15 - now the best performance in the UK.
A 26-week time limit, which became law in April 2014 through the Children and Families Act 2014, was introduced following a ride-ranging review of the Family Justice System in England and Wales. Its aim was to cut delays in the family court process, minimising uncertainty for children and young people, the the potential harm to their development.
CAFCASS Cymru's annual report for 2014-15 shows the average waiting time for public law cases (where local authorities apply to the courts for a care order in respect of a child) in 2014-15 was 24.9 weeks across Wales, with 76.7% of cases resolved within 26 weeks. This is an improvement from an average wait of 56.7 weeks in 2011-12, and 27 weeks in 2013-14.
7,430 children and young people were supported during 2014-15. Most of the children CAFCASS Cymru worked with 82% were aged ten years and under.
Health and Social Services Minister Mark Drakeford said:
'Ensuring some of the most vulnerable children in society are given certainty about their long-term futures as quickly as possible is absolutely crucial in providing stability in their lives.
'I'm delighted CAFCASS Cymru has helped secure this significant milestone. The reforms made to the family justice system were designed to ensure the needs of children are at the forefront of decisions made about them by the courts.
'I have no doubt many thousands of children and young people across Wales will have benefitted greatly from the services CAFCASS Cymru provides.'
Chief Executive of CAFCASS Cymru, Gillian Baranski, said:
'Securing the 26-week target for completion of care cases has been a significant milestone. Wales is one of only three areas across the UK which has achieved this, and as a result brought earlier certainty to many vulnerable children and young people regarding their future.
'This achievement is a testament to the strength of partnership arrangements which exist across Wales. No one organisation in isolation could have delivered these changes.
'It has been a demanding period for our staff, but their commitment and determination to improve outcomes for children has enabled CAFCASS Cymru to play its part alongside the local authorities and Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service in achieving this remarkable improvement.'