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CARE PROCEEDINGS IN ENGLAND: the case for clear blue water

The University of Sheffield has published a series of policy briefings on working against the challenges faced by children and ensuring they have the best possible chances in life. The four policy briefings cover: the effectiveness of early intervention; single parent families; the role of voluntary organisations in supporting and monitoring young carers; the services provided for young people leaving care.

Society’s ideas about what is considered to be socially acceptable parenting shift sometimes imperceptibly. At other times, these changes are accelerated by a heady mix of political discourse, media interest, community scandal and personal tragedy. On behalf of Society, local authorities in England are charged with deciding which families should receive some level of state intervention, where there are concerns about standards of care for, or protection of children. Ultimately, where there is immediate danger to, or no hope of much needed change for, the children the local authority may make an application to Court. It is the Court who decides what should happen next and indeed what should happen to the child in the long term.

Over the last 10 years there has been a steady increase in England in the number of local authority applications for Care Orders. The proportion of children looked after by the state, who are also subject to a Care Order, has increased too. There is also wide variance between local authorities in the number of applications made:

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 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. This policy briefing highlights the findings from an exploratory study of care proceedings in 4 local authorities across England. Cases were reviewed by both the Crooks Fellow and peer reviewers from partner authorities. Interviews were conducted with key social work decision makers.