This policy briefing highlights the findings from an exploratory study of care proceedings in 4 local authorities across England. The study found that the vast majority of decisions taken to initiate care proceedings were certainly reasonable but the question is whether or not they were always necessary.
The study found that the difficulties facing families in court proceedings today were very similar to 5 years ago. There was little evidence in the records of greater complexity of need – the review team recognised the continuum of needs as being the same as 20 years ago.
‘The increase in Supervision Orders in England over the period the study covered is very striking. Whilst the proportion has not changed, the volume of children and families being brought into care proceedings, only to remain together or be reunited at the end, has increased. Local authorities are making an increasing number of applications for Supervision Orders but they are also making an increasing number of applications for Care Orders to remove children, but which result in the Courts making Supervision Orders. This must raise the question as to whether families subject to these thin, red line decisions, because the decision to remove a child from his or her parents could go either way, should be diverted away from Court in the first place.
The paper also gives a welcome emphasis to the context for thin red line decisions including a much greater and deliberate national focus over the last few years on: – the early protection of the child, a stronger focus on lower level parenting concerns as signs of cumulative neglect with a risk of future harm, a greater sense of urgency to act and secure permanence without delay, and the need to act on the side of safety. In line with these expectations, the study found an increasing emphasis on ‘predicting what might happen, rather than what has happened, and a lower (but inconsistent) tolerance of diverse standards of parenting.’
This paper raises a number of constructive, timely challenges including the need for more targeted welfare services for families with lower level needs and sufficient and effective services for high level need and risk. It warns that families can too often find themselves on a conveyor belt into court:
‘The ability to engage parents sufficiently, and to build relationships of trust is a precursor for change; but so is the suitability, efficacy and availability of the services on offer. Without services sophisticated enough to support both children and parents within families close to the thin red line, the study suggests that more families eventually cross it.
Recommendations include a national programme to help calibrate senior social work leaders’ decision making within and between local authorities across England.
Read full paper at source. An important, welcome read: CARE PROCEEDINGS IN ENGLAND: the case for clear blue water