NSPCC response to the Family Justice Review
3 November 2011
Today the Family Justice Review panel today announced a package of recommendations aimed at tackling delays in the family justice system and to making sure that children and families are given the service they deserve.
The key recommendations are:
- A new six month time limit in care cases so delays are significantly reduced.
- Enabling people to make their own arrangements for their children when they separate, and only use courts when necessary.
- Overhauling the family justice system so that agencies and professionals work together with greater coherence to improve the experience and outcomes for children and families.
Tom Rahilly, Strategy and Development Team at the NSPCC, said:
"The NSPCC welcomes the recommendations of the Family Justice Review. It rightly places the needs and interests of the child at the centre of public and private law proceedings. Sadly, too often the courts take decisions based on parental rights, rather than those of the child or an assessment of the risks faced by that child. Our most vulnerable children are subject to unacceptable delays in court proceedings, denying children the chance of a permanent home, damaging children's development and, for too many children, prolonging their exposure to risk of harm. The report contains many detailed proposals to address these issues which need proper consideration, but we look forward to supporting the implementation of these principles.
"We welcome the focus on ensuring that the child's voice is heard during court proceedings. The court environment must be child and young person friendly, and we welcome the recommendation that the tandem model, providing a guardian for the child, should be retained and resources prioritised.
"Court proceedings should be brought where needed to protect children and young people. We therefore strongly support the recommendation to remove charges for local authorities in public law applications. Addressing delays in court proceedings requires all involved to be acting in the best interests of the child, working towards that single goal. The creation of a single family court and improved case management have clear potential to significantly improve proceedings and we welcome these proposals. The focus on stronger leadership and improved multi-disciplinary training, so that all of those involved have an understanding of child development, are also central to success.
“And we are glad that the report clearly states that the child's welfare should be the court's paramount consideration as stated in the Children Act 1989. The importance of children having a meaningful relationship with both parents is already fully recognised by the judiciary, who also appreciate the importance of protecting the child from physical or psychological harm. We do not see any added value in creating legislation on this point. Nor can we see how it could be enforced, or what the appropriate sanctions might be.
"The relationship, trust and understanding between local authorities and the courts is critical to reducing the delay. The report rightly highlights improvements in local authority practice needed if courts are to be able to trust their assessments and relinquish overlapping scrutiny of care plans. Successful implementation of the recommendations of the Munro Review is critical to achieving this but will take time. We therefore support the principles of these reforms but clear support and planning is needed and they should not be rushed.
"The NSPCC is working in partnership with local authorities, health services and the courts to increase support for children and families and improve the quality of assessments for court. We are also working in partnership with local authorities to improve the assessment and decision making about whether children and young people in care can safely return to their families. We all share a responsibility to ensure we place children and young people at the heart of our decision making. These projects will help inform the implementation of this review and we look forward to working with the Government and its partners."
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