Can a Family Court Adviser help avoid Care Proceedings?
Cafcass (Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service) have completed a pilot study in 3 Local Authorities across the UK into how using a Family Court Advisor as part of the formal pre-proceedings process can reduce the number of cases that go into care proceedings at Court. The study, which looked at 75 families, was undertaken following the introduction of The Public Law Outline, which outlines how Social Services should try and work with families before going to Court. Also considered was the Family Justice Review, which states that all professionals involved in public children cases must:
- Avoid delay;
- Improve efficiency;
- Put the children’s needs first.
Currently Family Court Advisers (FCAs) are involved once the Local Authority apply to Court for a Care or Supervision Order and become Children’s Guardians. Their role is to independently advise the court of what is best for the child. It is unusual for an FCA to be involved with a family before proceedings have started. The study looked at how the aid of an FCA, as well as proper use of the pre-proceedings process which includes a meeting with the family, can reduce the number of cases going into care proceedings.
Recent research (by Masson; Dicken; Bader and Young) has found that 25% of families in the pre-proceedings process avoided going into care proceedings. Of the 75 families in the pilot study, all of whom made full use of the process, a minimum of 40% of those at pre-proceedings stage avoided care proceedings. This was higher where an FCA was used at pre-proceedings stage.
The study showed the benefits of working with families at pre-proceedings stage were in improving family functioning and, where suitable, identifying alternative kinship carers as early as possible.
The study found that the best progress was made where a pre-proceedings meeting is attended by an FCA as well as legal representatives for the parents.
The options to enable an independent person to come in at an early stage would be either to introduce FCAs consistently in all pre-proceedings cases, or to increase the role of the Independent Reviewing Officer, who chairs Looked after Child Reviews and Child Protection Conferences and provides social Services with their view. Currently Cafcass does not have capacity to send an FCA to all Pre-Proceedings Meetings.
If your family are involved with Social Services and matters have reached the pre-proceedings stage, as a parent you are entitled to free legal advice. Our Care Department will be able to provide you with that advice and can attend the Pre-Proceedings Meeting with Social Services with you. Please contact the Care Team on 0116 2554855.