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Kara Swift
Kara Swift
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Report finds that speeding up care proceedings does not impair justice

Date:7 JUL 2014
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Journals Manager + Online Editor
An updated evaluation of the Tri-borough care proceedings pilot has found that the pattern of final orders was broadly the same for cases in the pilot year as in the year before.

The Family Justice Review of 2010-11 proposed that there should be a statutory time limit of 26 weeks, and the Tri-borough Care Proceedings Pilot, which ran from April 2012 to March 2013, was an initiative to conclude care cases within this timescale.

It was developed by the three London boroughs of Hammersmith & Fulham, Westminster, and Kensington & Chelsea, along with the court service and Cafcass. It introduced a range of practice changes in the local authorities and the courts, and a framework of monitoring mechanisms. The aim was to provide a model that could be rolled out to other areas.

The project was evaluated by the University of East Anglia's Centre for Research on Children and Families. The research team was Dr Jonathan Dickens, Dr Chris Beckett, Sue Bailey, Dr Sara Connolly and Dr Penny Sorensen.

An initial evaluation was published in September 2013, which found that the median duration of care proceedings had fallen from 49 weeks to 27 weeks (based on cases starting between April and December 2012).

A follow-up evaluation was conducted in Spring 2014, now that all the court cases had ended, enabling researched to link duration with the final orders. The median duration was still 27 weeks, but the important finding was that the pattern of final orders was broadly the same for cases in the pilot year as in the year before. The proportion of cases ending in care orders only had fallen, and the proportion ending in special guardianship orders had risen, but these differences were not statistically significant (that is to say, they could be the result of normal year-to-year variation). The proportion of cases ending in a care order and placement order was almost exactly the same. This confirms the optimistic findings of the original report, about the benefits of speeding up care proceedings without impairing justice.

Speaking of the Tri-borough care proceedings pilot in his article,  'Care proeedings in 26 weeks: justice, speed and thoroughness', in the May 2014 Family Law Special Issue, Dr Dickens said:

'It should be considered a success for a number of reasons. First, as noted, it achieved this [half of all cases evaluated concluded within 26 weeks] under the old PLO regime, without the new framework of hearings and tighter restrictions on expert evidence. Secondly, there was always an aim to share the lessons with other authorities, and a number have adopted its principles and methods; and thirdly, it is important to retain some element of flexibility. The dynamic of care proceedings does sometimes help to bring about changes that could not have been anticipated at the start. Sometimes a case may need to go beyond 26 weeks without anyone being to blame for not having gathered the relevant evidence or not having done an appropriate "balance sheet" analysis.'

The full report is available on the Centre for Research on Children and Families website.

Online subscribers can access the full version of Dr Dickens' article  here. The May Special Issue can be purchased at a special discounted price of £35.