It's been reported this week that the number of care proceedings issued in the London area is down by 30% since the Public Law Outline Pilot began, the Government in press releases and the FLBA in its recent members email both speculate that this may be down to an increase in placements with extended family. OF course the concern of many, including the FLBA is that the reasons may be to do with resources rather than best interests.
This coincides with the pilot of the Family Drugs and Alcohol Court pioneered by District Judge Crichton at the Inner London Family Proceedings Court (reported in the press several months ago, but the subject of a detailed article in this month's Counsel Magazine). FDAC is a voluntary scheme which provides parents of children in the care system with the opportunity to undergo therapy and treatment in order to deal with their substance abuse problems, with the goal of reuniting parent and child and avoiding permanent placement elsewhere. This seems like an excellent scheme, as resources targeted at parents are scarce - parents will rarely be funded by local authorities to undergo treatment, and whilst some support is available through the NHS, waiting lists mean that help via this route comes too late to affect the outcome of the care proceedings. The pilot is funded jointly by central government and three London Boroughs, but it is difficult to assess what scope there would be to finance an FDAC more widely if it proves successful - it is early days and no doubt stakeholders will want to see that they are getting value for their money.
The irony of this pilot is that, notwithstanding the current trend for pre-proceedings intervention and problem solving encompassed in the PLO, this vital parental support is not available and cannot get underway until proceedings have been commenced. It would be a terrible shame if parents who could otherwise benefit from this type of support were unable to access it because proceedings are not issued early enough. In an ideal world resources of this kind need to be available before matters have reached the threshold for care proceedings, but where the impetus for such pilots is from within the judiciary as it is here there is of course no power to affect the system prior to the court's involvement.
One hopes that parents - and children - do not fall between two stools here: by the time proceedings are issued matters may be past the point where this pilot could help. Hopefully the fact that the Local Authorities who are working with the families involved are also investing financially in the pilot means that there will be a degree of joined up thinking so that this is avoided. Of course, the premature issue of proceedings simply in order to enable a parent to access the FDAC resources would be wrong for other reasons.