Really serious and imminent

Newsflash : We’re all flat out and it ain’t getting any better. I hadn’t noticed.

The President however, has time for the production of two views in the space of a month. And in this one are some shocking figures. He is right, it’s a flipping crisis. And yes, it will be uncomfortable. If by “uncomfortable” you mean “a disaster”.

Number 15 contains a familiar motif : I shall call it the “make it so” syndrome. Remember “it must be done it can be done it will be done”? It lives on in this iteration of the View saga : “we’ve got too much work, not enough people, not enough money, the figures don’t add up – but it’ll be fine…somehow..” Yes, chaps. We must make like Nike and “Just do it”. Anyone got a plan?

At least there is no suggestion that the flippin’ online court is a solution.

The President poses some very good questions that require research. Of course nobody is collecting the data that would be required to actually do this research and the judiciary have no research funding with which to make it so. And questions without answers butter me no parsnips. Or something.

Having reiterated his commitment to the tandem model (yah boo Daily Mail) he proposes first aid in the form of (wait for it) more bundle discipline. Give me strength. I know we’ve only got half a sheet of sticky back plastic and an empty bottle of mild green Fairy liquid to work with – but there comes a point where you have to call it like it is. If we’re being up front enough to call this a crisis lets be frank and face up to the fact that we can’t make this stack up by slashing bundles. And the uncomfortable truth is that we can’t even make this stack up by sprinkling magic FDAC / Pause fairydust on the numbers so they become less “uncomfortable”. FDAC is a fantastic thing, but it is very heavy on judicial time from what I understand, it requires a certain type of judge and it suits a certain type of case. And more to the point it requires a willing and able local authority to bank roll it. That would be the same local authorities who are wildly issuing proceedings in respect of all the falling apart families they can no longer afford early intervention and support services for. So, wiv respeck : it ain’t happening Pres. From where I’m standing the increase in care cases is not all drug and alcohol cases, nor is it all repeat mums – and PAUSE and FDAC won’t touch the sides. The cases I am seeing are sexual abuse and physical harm and long term neglect, domestic violence and mental health and honour based violence and emotional harm from conflict…. For what it’s worth (and frankly we don’t have the bloody research the President opines that we need so my view is as good as anyone’s) the causes of this rise are indeed multifactorial. These things stick out for me :

  • some of it is because we aren’t supporting families to prevent issue – that’s to do with resources
  • some of it is because we are getting better at recoginising different types of harm, in my view particularly emotional harm
  • and some of it is the risk monster : Our child protection system is simultaneously hypersensitive to risk and yet spectacularly poor at protecting. See Bilson and Devine here (see, there is SOME Research!).

Some of it is because of temporary blips like cases on s20 – but I don’t think that’s a key issue.

I’m bemused at how this judicial comment thing works. This President it seems is not constrained terribly much by the convention against political comment. He’s certainly happy to dip his toe in. And yet…the scale and depth of this crisis is spelt out in stark numbers and plain english. But it’s like a skeleton argument which forgets to set out the orders sought at the end : more tools and resources please. If it is appropriate for the President to advocate the carrying out of significant research with a view (presumably) to reducing its workload in the long term, then surely it is not inappropriate for him to also advocate and demand more resources in order to properly discharge the core judicial function of deciding cases fairly? But on this point the President capitulates – it is always “we must assume there will be no more resources”. Why does the “make it so” syndrome extend to everything but this? Why is this the one thing that cannot be said? How can we make it so with no more judges or sitting days (and with High Court judges now doing half the Court of Appeal’s work too), no more resources, increasingly complex novel types of case, closure of court buildings, facilities and procedures for vulnerable witnesses in a mess, social workers and local authority legal departments in meltdown, and reductions in legal aid and a legal profession that is at capacity already? I know family lawyers don’t do pleadings, but it is like a pleading without a prayer.

This make do and mend approach to our justice system is becoming ridiculous. It is amateurish and embarrassing. This is not a hole in our trousers that needs patching. We’ve got nowt but a pair of kecks to cover our nakedness. The President is darned right it is uncomfortable (ha! darn – serendipitous pun there). And you can bet your last pair of clean underpants that it will ALWAYS be the fault of the lawyers and the judges (and the social workers) when the crisis becomes a catastrophe. Just as this last week in Parliament the family courts and judges were blamed for so-say failing women victims of domestic abuse, where when in reality much of what is complained of is completely outwith the control of the judges, and instead results from the decisions of government / Parliament (of which more another time – that was to be tonight’s blog post but the View disrupted my schedule).

10 thoughts on “Really serious and imminent

  1. And where will these resources you demand come from? There seem to be the same problems in other areas of public expenditure, such as health and education. Where I work, we are expected to deliver consistently higher standards with fewer staff and the same budgets (and pay) we had 10 or 15 years ago. The same “make it so” mentality applies, mainly because it is out of the hands of the managers who cannot conjure up more resources and who fear to criticise government too much lest they lose their posts to the more sycophantic (who are always waiting in the wings) or get passed over for the inevitable gong at the end of their mediocre careers.

    Surely, one solution, as you sort of imply, is for LAs to focus resources more into helping families and preventing the abuse and neglect which leads to court. Promoting stable, married families rather than family breakdown might also be a good idea, though it is politically unthinkable.

    • I don’t know Nick, and I don’t expect them to come. I simply don’t understand why we can’t be frank that we can’t work miracles. It is ultimately the governments decisions that have put us in this position where we struggle – even when doing our best – to provide a good enough service to families. We are and must continue to do all we can to make economies and I wouldn’t suggest otherwise. I just don’t see the difficulty in stating the bleedin obvious, namely we can only do so much. And I do think we have a responsibility to say that we may not be able to achieve proper justice on the current level of resource in order that those who hold the purse strings can make decisions about priorities. I don’t expect justice to be a priority, but that ought to be the government’s responsibility not a question of blaming lawyers and judges.
      And I agree that a solution would be for LAs to focus more resources into helping families – but they don’t have them! That I think is one of the drivers for the current care stats. There is no support and then cases come in on an emergency basis. It is not good economic sense but that is how it is. The courts and lawyers have no power to change that. And I’m not sure LAs do either. It’s a question of what priorities the government decides to focus on. If we don’t name the problem why would we expect things to change?

  2. It isn’t all broken. Calling investing in early help as an investment is an understatement. The benefits across the board are obvious. I think that while the money is a lot less, there is still money out there that could be spent better. We do not have any agency social workers in my local authority and we use the money saved in co-funding early help services.

    I think that there is a role for short term agency social work but I do question the ethics of social workers who stay in one place long term as an agency social worker as it deprives the local authority from using the money on services. Equally, the local authority has a responsibility to look at recruitment, retention and leadership.

  3. ‘We are and must continue to do all we can to make economies and I wouldn’t suggest otherwise.’

    What economies are left to make in family justice though?

    • I’m not sure. A social worker has suggested some re agency social workers but within the actual court system I’m not sure. Andrew Pack makes a suggestion about representation for two parents whose case is the same, but I have to say in the majority of cases that would be professionally quite difficult, so I suspect any savings would be minimal and eaten up by the cases where a conflict arose too late to salvage a final hearing.

  4. Cut funding so everything fails then privatise. That, it seems to me, is what this government is about. Bugger the consequences for vulnerable children.

  5. You could make savings by looking a peripherial savings within the MOJ (such as bundle sizes, not having some final hearings etc) but that’s just bailing out water at a slower rate it is flooding in. You need to slow down the rate of water coming.

    This is where we need to come back to early help and stop the harm from happening in the first place (or reduce the impact of it) so we don’t need to make applications at all.

    For example, since investing in early help, has substantially less children sustaining acute injuries (accidentally or otherwise) and the number of crisis interventions has also reduced.

  6. I do not think you are going to get what you rightly suggest that we need. There is no Plan B:
    Have you read this?

    • I know that Norma! But yes, I have read that – thanks for pointing it out. It is not news to me, but I had not seen that particular iteration of it.

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