The Children and Families Act came into force in April 2014,
introducing wide-ranging reforms to the Family Justice System.
At the heart of the reforms in the public law arena was a
revised Public Law Outline (PLO)
. The Department for Education (DfE)
Research in Practice
to review the impact of the reforms on the
Family Justice System through investigation with a range of professionals
including lawyers, social workers and case managers. Their reports (available to download below) were made available on 27
of the review aimed to:
an understanding of the impact of the reforms on local authority practice
examples of changes to practice which have led to improvements.
whether there have been any negative unintended consequences of reforms.
findings of the report included:
of the impact of the 26 week PLO timeframe were generally positive. This was seen as resulting in more timely
decision-making for children. The focus on the pre-proceedings stage was crucial,
although the timescale was not yet being met in all areas.
remain identifiable challenges in relation to pre-proceedings work include
including lack of resources and potential family carers not coming forward
until the later stages.
authorities are taking a proactive approach to identifying potential family
members as alternative carers.
authorities report improvements in the quality of social work evidence
produced, although work still needs to be done in this area.
managers have a key role in supporting and collaborating with the professionals
in the case and considering all the options for the child.
Local Authorities have seen an increase in the number of children placed with
parents under care orders. Suggested reasons for this include insufficient time
to carry out assessments within the 26 week timescale and caution in court
following recent decisions such as
B (Care Proceedings: Appeal)
 UKSC 33,
 2 FLR 1075 and
B-S (Adoption: Application of s 47(5))
,  1 FLR
1035 (although notably the research was carried out only a short time
after the judgment in
Re R (A Child)  EWCA Civ 1625,  1 FLR 715 and so the impact of that judgment may not have had time to
aimed to explore professionals' views on Special Guardianship Orders
(SGOs), in particular:
- Changes in approach to the way SGOs are being recommended
and used since the reforms.
- The circumstances in which special guardianship
tends to be viewed as a positive option.
- Identification and assessment of extended family
- Preparation and support for special guardians.
- The courts’ approach to granting SGOs and the
outcomes for SGOs.
That phase of the report found that:
- There was a perception that there has been an
increase in the number of SGOs being made, in part as a result of the family
justice reforms, but also as a result of recent decisions such as Re
B and Re
B-S (although as noted above, the full impact of the judgment in
not necessarily had time to take effect).
- Social workers were pro-active in the early
identification of extended family members, however it was recognised that practice
in this area needs to continue to develop, to ensure sufficient engagement with
the wider family at the earliest stages. Although Local Authorities do use Family
Group Conferences, these are often not held soon enough and family members are
often not identified before proceedings, which raises challenges.
- Family members often come forward as potential
special guardians during proceedings, once the court has decided that the child
cannot remain with their parents. Many courts do not have a cut-off point for
family members coming forward. This can
impact on assessments and consequently time scales.
- There is a concern amongst some regarding SGOs
being used for babies and infants and a feeling that this contradicts the
original intention of SGOs being used for older children in long-term foster
care or with an established relationship with the carer.
was noted throughout the review that the evidence was limited in scope and that
further research needs to be done to investigate the longer term impact of the
reforms. The review concludes that future
research would need to explore the views of the judiciary and should also
incorporate an analysis of case files and monitoring data.
Nuffield foundation has recently indicated
to commission a project to improve research relevant to
Family Justice issues. Whilst these
reports provide valuable evidence of the views of the professionals consulted,
it is to be hoped that over time such improvements in research would lead to more
conclusive evidence of the impact of the reforms.The report Impact of the Family Justice Reforms on Front-line Practice Phase One: The Public Law Outline is available to download here. The report Impact of the Family Justice Reforms on Front-line Practice Phase Two: Special Guardianship Order can be accessed here.