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Research shows social workers are taking the right actions to keep children safe

Date:24 SEP 2014
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Senior Editor
Cafcass has published research showing that 5 years on from the tragic Baby Peter Connelly case local authority social workers are making timely and well prepared care applications for children at risk.

Continuing its research 'Three weeks in November', Cafcass has captured the views of 300 Children’s Guardians on the decisions of local authorities around care applications (Children Act 1989, s 31) over a 3-week period in November 2013. The findings endorse much of the work of social workers, considering, in general, that local authorities are bringing the right cases to court, usually at the right time, and with the cases having been well prepared.

Key findings from the research include:
  • Guardians believed there was no other course of action [than making an application] available to local authorities in 84% of cases.
  • In 84% of cases, Guardians thought that the local authority had met or partially met the requirements of the revised Public Law Outline (PLO); and in 32% of the cases where Guardians indicated that the local authority had not met the requirements they considered this was appropriate.
  • Neglect remains the principal category of concern for children who were, or had been, the subject of a child protection plan and was identified by Guardians as being the principal trigger for care applications where the child was not subject of a plan.
  • Guardians considered that the timing of the application was appropriate in 54% of cases.

The principal difference from the findings of the 2012 study is that the percentage of cases in which the Guardian considered the application to have been late rose from 26% to 39%. Three possible explanations are put forward - in some cases it may be due to the local authority spending too long working with parents who have multiple chronic problems and who are unlikely to make sufficient progress within an acceptable timeframe for their child or children. The increase could also be due transferring work to the pre-proceedings period, and to a lower tolerance of delay from Guardians, resulting from recent changes to promote earlier permanence for children.

Anthony Douglas, Cafcass Chief Executive said:

“Our Guardians have rightly upped their expectations of local authority practice and local authority social workers have upped their game – a combination which can only give children at risk better protection.
“It is fantastic news that Guardians consider that, in general, local authorities are bringing the right cases to court, in a timely way and with the cases being well prepared, but it does not come as a surprise – we have been working hard with social workers, local authorities, judges and ADCS (Association of Directors of Children’s Services) to get to this point. We have to go on improving as one child poorly served by the family justice system is one child too many.”
Annie Hudson, Chief Executive of The College of Social Work said:

“These survey results are encouraging. They testify to the expertise and commitment of local authority social workers and Guardians to making sure that children’s needs are at the heart of the complex and necessarily finely balanced family justice system decision making process.
New expectations and requirements have at times been professionally very demanding of social workers and this valuable study shows that they have risen well to this challenge.”
The continuation of this research enables Cafcass to track trends against the changing context in which social work decisions are made since the original Three weeks in Novemberstudy was published. This includes an unprecedented high number of care applications in 2012/13 and significant legislative and practice reform taking place in the family justice system. Care case duration has dropped from a national average of 56 weeks in November 2011 to 33 weeks (with legislation placing a 26-week target) and the revised PLO emphasising robust analysis and planning to secure early permanence for children.

This research saw the highest response rate of Cafcass Guardians to date, reflecting an increasingly engaged workforce.

Click here to read the research in full.

Cafcass has also produced two infographics illustrating the key findings of the research:

Three weeks in November...whats' changed, five years on?
Three weeks in November...whats do we know about the children?
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