NSPCC and Law Society Wade In

The NSPCC and the Law Society have recently aired their concerns by press release about the detrimental side-effects that the enormous hike in court fees for the issue of care proceedings is likely to have on child welfare. NSPCC director and chief executive, Dame Mary Marsh, says quite rightly:

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‘It is a matter of public interest to ensure that children are kept safe and have access to justice. There is a real and serious risk that vulnerable children and their families will be prevented from having full access to justice if these proposals are implemented because some decisions about taking proceedings in relation to vulnerable children could be finance led.’

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What is of course left unsaid is the sad fact that these decisions are – in some instances at least – already finance led. I would not go so far as to say that is is the norm., but I have handled several cases recently which should for the sake of the children have been care proceedings, but the court and the parties were left flailing without the support of social workers because the Local Authority was reluctant to issue and trigger more onerous duties to the family. The distinct impression one is left with in these cases is that the Local Authority prefers to avoid its more onerous duties to what might otherwise be accommodated children by persuading the more capable parent or a grandparent to seek residence orders, whilst at the same time attempting to maintain the view that the children have suffered or are likely to suffer significant harm (the threshold for initiating care proceedings). In at least one case I have dealt with this led pretty directly to the breakdown of a placement with extended family under a residence order because the Local Authority viewed the residence order as the end of the matter and failed to support the carer. In another it has led to the Local Authority failing to allocate a named social worker for sexually abused children even when the children’s Guardian was begging them to do so.

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Again, I think (hope) my experience is of isolated aberrations but it does highlight the potential for cash strapped local authorities and underresourced social work teams to make decisions about how they spread those resources between families on the basis of cost. I don’t know if certain Local Authorities have policies to push for private law orders (residence orders) where possible as a matter of course, but it does sometimes seem that way.

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