It has been widely reported that there has been an unprecedented rise in the number of care applications in England and Wales. For the first time the annual figure for the number of care applications made has risen to over 10,000 to the year ending March 2012.
The reasons for the increase are largely considered to be as a result of the tragic case of Baby Peter who died in 2007. Local Authorities are said to be adopting a more risk averse stance and there is perhaps a greater recognition of the harmful impact upon a child of chronic neglect. In addition, it may be possible that due to the extensive media coverage of the Baby P case, members of the public may also be more alert to the risks and more willing to make referrals to Social Services.
Of course, not all applications made to the Courts will result in the removal of a child. For an interim care order can be made , the Court must be satisfied that the child or children has suffered, or is at risk of suffering, significant harm as a result of the care being provided. Even in some instances where a care orders has been made, the Court may decide that the children should remain at home or within the family under home placement agreements.
The increase in the number of care applications will undoubtedly have a knock-on effect, especially as the funding of public services is already under immense pressure. For example, The Fostering Network report that 7100 new foster placements are urgently required. Difficult decisions as to the allocation of social work resources. Against this backdrop there may be even less resources available for preventative work where families at risk require support.
CAFCASS, the organisation that become involved when proceedings are issued, reported a 20% increase in applications over the last quarter of 2011 compared to the same period of 2012. In addition, agencies such as the NHS or police who are commonly involved in the referral process are also finding themselves involved as witnesses in an increasing number of cases. There are also additional burdens on the court system which is under pressure in any event to ensure that cases are dealt with expeditiously.
The Local Government Association has already previously reported that they consider the cost of the increase in care proceedings 'unsustainable' in the longer term.
The overriding objective of child protection cannot be compromised for financial or resource issues. If as a society we are to play a greater role in the life of the family; to ensure that children are protected from harm and neglect; then adequate resources need to be made available. The welfare of children must remain paramount.
By Karen Frankland, family law solicitor in Burnley