Delayed care hearings are ‘damaging’ children

9 Aug 10
Vulnerable children in England and Wales are being ‘damaged’ by record delays in care hearings, a charity has warned
By Lucy Phillips

9 August 2010

Vulnerable children in England and Wales are being ‘damaged’ by record delays in care hearings, a charity has warned.

Data published today by Barnardos revealed that children are waiting on average more than a year (57 weeks) in unstable, sometimes abusive, family homes or emergency foster care placements before a county court decides if they will be taken into care. Family proceedings in magistrate courts are only slightly less lengthy, taking 45 weeks on average.

Martin Narey, chief executive of Barnardos, said: ‘The courts need to urgently reflect on the damage these delays are having on extremely vulnerable children. A year of a child’s life is an inordinate amount of time for them to be trapped in desperate limbo, unclear of their future and very possibly at risk.’

The data also uncovered a ‘postcode lottery’ governing the fate of children waiting for court decisions. In 2008/09, the courts in Humber and South Yorkshire took an average of 46 weeks to come to a decision while those in London took 65 weeks. It comes as growing numbers of children are going into the care system, partly following a backlash from the Baby Peter case.

The charity called for an overhaul of family court practice, with a deadline of 30 weeks for all cases to be dealt with. Children younger than 18 months should be dealt with in under 12 weeks, it said.

TheLocal Government Association backed the call for reform. John Ransford, LGA chief executive, said: ‘The family courts have failed to respond effectively enough to the increasing number of children coming into care. The lengthening court delays pose a very real danger to the vulnerable children who councils want to be able to protect. It is clear that radical changes are needed to make the system fit for purpose.’     

Previous research showed a link between high levels of instability in care placements and people’s difficulties later in life, such as unemployment and problems with social relationships.

Barnardos’ report follows recent warnings of strains on both the fosteringsystem and servicesfor vulnerable children.

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