Bridget Lindley, Principal Legal Adviser, Family Rights Group
The family justice reforms introduce key changes to reduce avoidable delay, which is potentially harmful to children. However, one of the consequences is that the opportunity for parents and relatives to challenge local authority plans once care proceedings are underway is substantially reduced. Under the new PLO, unless it has already been agreed with the local authority, the case management hearing is effectively the last opportunity for them to make the case for the child to be raised safely by their family. It is therefore critical the child and family's right to respect for family life and to achieving optimal outcomes for the children concerned that the child's family are engaged as early as possible, to make plans (including contingency plans) for the child to be raised safely within their family network. Yet there is no statutory duty on the local authority to work with the family before proceedings start and relevant guidance is now out of date, resulting in wide variation in pre-proceedings practice across the country. This article argues that a national protocol on the early engagement of families is urgently needed. It also suggests what such a protocol might include to promote effective practice.
The full version of this article appears in the November 2013 issue of Family Law.