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The latest figures from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) have shown that there was an 7.9% increase in the total number of applications received between April and September 2012 over the same period last year. The total number of applications received during that period this year was 5,374.

Each month of this financial year has seen the highest ever number of applications recorded for that individual month, with the exception of June.

During May and July 2012 Cafcass received 982 applications each month, the highest figure ever recorded for a single month.

New figures from the Ministry of Justice reveal a one percent decrease in the number of children involved in public law applications in the second quarter of this year.

The figures concern actions brought by local authorities or an authorised person in order to protect children. Such cases can cover a number of different orders, including a care or supervision order, or an emergency protection order.

The number of children involved in public law applications made by local authorities jumped in 2009 from around 20,000 per year to almost 26,000 per year following the publicity surrounding the Baby P case. Since then the numbers continued to increase through to early 2012, but have this quarter shown a small decrease.

According to the statistics, in the period between April and June this year 7,032 children were involved in public law applications – down one percent from the equivalent period in 2011, when 7,114 children were involved. The number of applications made, which can cover more than one child, also fell slightly to 4,101 from 4,149 in the second quarter of 2011.

The number of children involved in private law applications, which generally follow a breakdown in their parents’ relationship, actually increased in the second quarter of this year – up 14% to 27,204.

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.

 

Recent figures released by the Department of Education have shown that there were 67,050 looked after children at 31st March 2012, an increase of 2% compared to the same point last year, and an increase of 13% compared to 31st March 2008.

Of children looked after at 31st March 2012, 50,260 were cared for in a foster placement. This represents 75% of all children looked after at 31st March 2012. There were 3,450 looked after children adopted during the year, which is the highest figure since 2007 and an increase of 12% from the 2011 figure.

Edward Timpson, Minister for Children and Families, said:

“The rise in the number of adoptions and adoption placement orders is extremely welcome, but it still takes too long for those who want to adopt and foster to be approved. The time it takes for a child in care to be adopted can be a significant period in that child’s life.

“So we are looking at measures to encourage councils to make use of adopters in other parts of the country. We will shorten the approval process and fast track those who are already foster carers.

“Taken together I hope these reforms will, over time, encourage more people to come forward and volunteer to adopt children. I want more young children to have a settled start in life with a loving family.

“That way, they can make a profound and lasting impact on young lives.”

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.

The Fostering Network has welcomed the publication of a Government consultation on measures which it hopes will help fostering services recruit more people and support foster carers in providing a normal family environment for their fostered children.

Through the consultation, the Government is seeking views on measures aiming to allow foster carers to make everyday decisions about the children they look after and cut unnecessary bureaucracy in the approval process to encourage more people to come forward to foster.

Robert Tapsfield, chief executive of the Fostering Network, said: “More than three-quarters of the children in care in England live with foster carers, and so ensuring that the system is working well for these children and the families that look after them is essential.

“There is a real need to make sure that foster carers are empowered to take day-to-day decisions regarding the children they foster – currently too many fostered children find themselves missing out on everyday childhood experiences. And we know that improvements must be made to the process of assessing and approving foster carers.

“The Fostering Network welcomes the proposals and encourages all those who share a desire to improve the current system to respond to the consultation and help the Government make changes that will improve the lives of children in foster care."

A new report by The Children's Society has highlighted a need for stronger statutory guidance to make sure that every child in the care system has access to vital independent advocacy.

The role of an independent advocate is to make sure that children in care have their views heard and acted upon. An advocate works directly with the child, giving them the opportunity to make their opinion known when it comes to decisions about their lives.

The report found that children and young people in care are experiencing inconsistency across England in getting advocacy help, which can have a massive impact on their lives. The problem is worst for the most vulnerable groups of children, including disabled and very young children.

The charity, which runs nine advocacy services across England, reviewed 142 cases and found that providing children with this support can lead to stronger care placements, boost educational attainment and have other enormous benefits.

The Children's Society found that just under half of cases they assessed involved children and young people with special educational needs (SEN) and/or a disability. It also found that that placement, taking part in their reviews and leaving care were the issues that children and young people most frequently expressed their need for support.

The charity conducted a review of services from a practice base, looking at the services provided and how advocacy plays a crucial role in the well-being of children and young people, especially those in care who often have decisions made about their lives without being consulted. It also looks at the financial implications and how advocacy now could save local authorities money in the long-term.

A report by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Looked After Children and Care Leavers has recommended that schools should receive an extra £1,000 of funding for every child they teach from foster or residential care, reports The Who Cares? Trust.

Children in care perform less well on average at school and are also more likely to be excluded. The proposed 'pupil premium plus' would provide additional support for these children at school with the aim of improving their attainment.

Edward Timpson MP, who chairs the APPG on Looked After Children and Care Leavers, said:

“Education can be a lifeline for looked-after children. The pupil premium plus would be a well-targeted way to get extra resources directly to the children and really make a difference.”

As this year’s GCSE results are published, the Fostering Network Wales is calling on the Welsh Government and local authorities to focus on providing stable foster care in order to help looked-after children do better in education.

The call follows the publication of a new report from the Welsh Audit Office, which highlights that while the education of children in care is improving, too many are not achieving their potential.

In 2011, 23% of looked after children achieved the benchmark of five A to C grades in their GCSEs, compared to 67% of all children in Wales, while 29% of young people leaving care had no qualifications at all.

Commenting on the report, Freda Lewis, director of the Fostering Network Wales, said: “While the education of children in care in Wales has improved, their achievements still fall well behind their peers and this cannot continue.

“With the number of children coming into care continuing to rise and the vast majority going to live with foster carers, the Welsh Government and local authorities must ensure fostering is a priority so these children get the right support at home as well as in the classroom.”

The head of international family justice for England and Wales, Lord Justice Sir Mathew Thorpe, has welcomed the news that Japan is to sign the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, reports The Japan Times.

The 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention applies typically where one parent has moved a child abroad without the consent of the other parent and without the permission of a court. In such a case, the “left behind” parent may apply through the Hague system for the prompt return of the child, and a “return order” will be issued unless the “taking parent” can establish that one of the exceptions found in the Convention should be applied.

Speaking to The Japan Times, Lord Justice Thorpe said: "It will bring Japan into treaty relationship with 87 other countries, and that enables people to recover to Japan children who have been wrongly removed from Japan by one or other parent."

The move will also help non-Japanese parents recover children that have been taken from their home to Japan by a parent without court permission.

Following the success of the first Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) in London, a second specialist court is to open in Gloucestershire.

The courts provide specialist help to parents who are experiencing problems with drugs or alcohol. According to Gloucestershire Council, the aim of the court service is to speed up care proceedings so that the affected children can be found a safe, permanent home, either with their own family or an adoptive family.

Cllr Paul McLain, Cabinet Member for Vulnerable Families, said: "The specialist service and the new Family Drug and Alcohol Court will give families struggling with drug and alcohol problems intensive support to turn themselves around.

"Parents will get help to get clean, stay clean and be better parents so that, where possible, they can care for their children. The focus will be on the family's needs, concerns and strengths with everyone working towards the best possible outcome for the children - a stable and safe home."

Children's charity Barnardo's has commented on the recent ONS publication that shows there was an increase in the number of adoptions in 2011 compared to 2010.

The statistics show that nearly two-thirds (62%) of children adopted in England & Wales last year were aged between one and four. The 2011 figure was an increase on the previous year, when one to four-year-olds made up 58% of adoptions in England and Wales. There was also a 6% increase in the overall level of adoptions, with 4,734 in 2011 compared with 4,481 in 2010.

Barnardo’s UK Director of Strategy, Janet Grauberg, said:

“The fact that more children are being adopted and at a younger age, is very good news.

“But the increase, although heartening, is still small. We need to strive to move these children to a permanent, stable and secure family as quickly as possible, as the longer a child waits the more they suffer emotionally and the less likely they are to be adopted.

“Children who wait longest for families are siblings, disabled children, older children, and those from black or minority ethnic backgrounds. We desperately need more people to come forward to adopt children – especially for these groups.”

The Family Rights Group has issued a statement in response to the publication of Mr Justice Ryder’s report into the modernisation of Family Justice.

Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive of Family Rights Group said:

"There is the danger that the unintended consequence of the Government’s proposal to limit care cases to six months will be that children are less likely to be placed with their wider family.

"We are therefore pleased that Mr Justice Ryder has identified that local authorities should explore the potential for a child to return home and the feasibility of children living with their wider family prior to the start of care proceedings. We very much welcome his statement that this is “much more likely to occur where family group conferencing or similar early engagement with family have occurred to identify alternative placements for the child." 

“Family group conferences have the advantage of identifying early on all those who may be important in the child’s life, including paternal relatives, and allow contingency planning so that relatives can put themselves forward and be assessed as potential carers should a child not be able to live with their parents. Unfortunately, at the moment only a small minority of families are offered a family group conference prior to proceedings and three in ten local authorities in England and Wales have no family group conference service at all.

"Mr Justice Ryder’s report however, does not address the increase in relatives who, due to the legal aid reforms, will have to represent themselves in court in order to secure a residence or special guardianship order that could provide a child at risk with a safe, permanent home. It is urgent that the courts are geared up to addressing this.

"We are therefore keen to discuss with Mr Justice Ryder how the Family Court Guide that he is developing will best address family and friends care."

The Government has published discussion papers seeking views – the first reviewing contact arrangements for children with their birth parents and the second looking at placing sibling groups for adoption.

The papers are based on proposals from the Government’s Advisor on Adoption Martin Narey, and call for views from professionals, charities, foster carers, children in care, adopted children and adoptive parents.

Martin Narey said:

“Today the Government is asking for views on two issues which are central to the long term welfare of such children. The first is about contact between children in care and their birth families. This follows advice from me to Ministers in which I have expressed anxiety about the amount of contact we allow and the potential of that to harm children. The second issue, on which I have also expressed concern, is about the extent to which we try to keep brothers and sisters together in planning for their adoption.

“On contact, many of the practitioners I have spoken to during the past year, and in numerous visits to local authorities and voluntary adoption agencies, have convinced me that too often we allow contact when it is not in the best interests of the child. Sometimes, even when contact is appropriate, we allow too much of it. It is not uncommon for infants in care to be shuttled, sometimes long distances, and every day, for meetings with their birth mother of two or more hours. The distress that causes to infants gravely troubles both their foster carers and their social workers.

“I have not suggested to Ministers that contact between birth families and children in care should not continue to be the norm. But I have urged them to consider whether the current legislative presumption in favour of contact is appropriate and whether, instead, policy should make clear that contact must always be in the interests of the child.

“On siblings, I have concluded that while we should and must do more to recruit adopters willing to take on the challenge of adopting two or more children simultaneously, we need to ensure that local authority and court decisions are informed by the research evidence which tells us - much as it might surprise us – that keeping siblings together may not always be in the interests of individual children. For example where, through a period of neglect, an older child has been effectively parenting a younger child, it can be vital for them to be separated so that each child can develop a positive attachment with their new parents.

“And the adopter challenge of successfully compensating for an early life of neglect, where a child has often suffered significant harm, will often be more manageable when adopters are coping with just one child, not two, three or four.”

 

People accused of seriously abusing children or vulnerable adults, who try to escape justice by staying silent or blaming someone else, face up to 10 years in prison now that the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims (Amendment) Act 2012 has come into force.

The Act extends the offence of causing or allowing the death of a child or vulnerable adult to causing or allowing serious physical harm, like inflicting brain damage or broken bones.

Crown Prosecution Service data on cases where children were seriously harmed but no successful prosecution could be brought include a five-month-old baby who suffered a brain hemorrhage and fractured skull and a two-week-old with a broken collar bone, ribs and leg.

The Act is the result of a Private Member’s Bill introduced by Sir Paul Beresford MP, which the Government backed to ensure it became law.

“By making sure this Bill became law we have taken the opportunity to close a terrible loophole which has, until now, allowed people accused of seriously harming a child or vulnerable adult to escape unpunished,” said Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke. “We want to do everything possible to ensure that the most vulnerable members of our society are kept safe in their homes, and those that abuse their power do not evade justice.”

A recent report from charity Adoption UK has found that adopted children and their families are being sold short when it comes to the provision of support services that could help ensure the success of more adoptions from care.

Around 4,000 children were adopted from the UK system in the year ending March 31, 2011; more than 70% were removed from their birth families due to abuse or neglect. Their early childhood experiences mean that adopted children may have challenging emotional, behavioural, or physical challenges.

Results indicated that at any one time, around half of adoptive families are in need of some sort of adoption support service but that accessing support services is difficult for many adopters. Many felt their agency did not provide the services that would most help their family and also believed that the lack of understanding among professionals – from social workers to school staff - around the needs of adopted children was a significant problem. Finance is also an issue with many families having to fund their own support services because local authorities are underfunded.

Jonathan Pearce, Adoption UK Chief Executive, said: “What adopters are saying they need is a process and system that better equips them for the joys and challenges of adoptive parenting.

“They need continuing education and training on child development and how this is affected by the trauma of abuse and neglect, attachment issues and how to be therapeutic parents to abused and neglected children.

“They also need joined-up, adoption-aware services across not just the social care sector, but also in education and mental health. When considering that they are taking on some of the most vulnerable children in our society, it seems senseless that they are not automatically supported.”

Families Need Fathers has welcomed the release of the Government’s consultation on proposed legislation on the involvement of both parents in a child’s life. The recognition that the full involvement of both parents is a crucial component of child welfare, and not a challenge to it, is a simple, yet hugely significant, development in family law.

Ken Sanderson, CEO of Families Need Fathers, commented, “By making explicit the importance of both parents being fully involved in their child’s upbringing following divorce or separation, the Government will be making a crucial and long overdue amendment to the law. It will support and strengthen the overwhelming social change over the past 40 years whereby both parents are expected to contribute fully to their child’s wellbeing, both emotionally and materially.”

“These proposals are not just about those families who end up in court; the law provides the context in which those who come to private arrangements approach post-separation parenting, and it is crucial that an expectation is set that all parents should continue to maintain a meaningful relationship with their children. This will help to ensure minimum disruption to the children’s family life, and in doing so promote their social and emotional wellbeing.”

Kent County Council has called on councils to do more to ensure that children in care are placed as close to home as possible to minimise disruption to their lives.

According to the Council, there are currently 1,267 children in care that have been placed in Kent by other local authorities.

The leader of Kent County Council, Paul Carter, said: "Being taken into care is probably the most traumatic thing that can happen to a child. Children in care deserve a better deal and all councils must work much harder to provide placements that enable them to remain in their schools and with their friends, unless there is a threat to their safety. This will minimise disruption in their lives and protect the wellbeing of some of our most vulnerable children."

He went on to say that: "There are very good reasons why authorities place some children far away from home – with prospective adopters, with relatives, in specialist residential provision, catering for acute need or disability, that is not available closer. However, there are far too many vulnerable children and young people placed in children's homes and with non-related foster carers miles away from home. It is extremely difficult to be an effective ‘corporate parent’ and look after children placed so far away from home.”

The Council has called on the Government to legislate to:

  • require local authorities to place children within 15 miles of their home or school, unless by exception,
  • ensure all local authorities report annually on how many children have been placed more than 15 miles away or in another local authority area, and
  • require London councils to work together to commission care placements in London to enable children to stay close to home, and reduce pressure placed on Kent's public services by supporting children from other council areas.

Shared parenting legislation, aimed at strengthening relationships between parents and children after separation, could detract from children’s wellbeing, the Law Society is warning.

Responding to a Government consultation in which ministers are proposing different ways to establish the notion of “shared parenting” after separation, Law Society President John Wotton said: “Introducing a legislative presumption of shared parenting could lead to unrealistic expectations from fathers, with a huge rise in fathers asking the courts for ‘equal time’.

"This could undermine the Government’s drive towards mediation and out of court settlements. The Government should avoid any implication in the statute of any right to equal time with a child, or any prescription of appropriate amounts of time.

The primary focus should be on the rights and welfare of the children, not those of parents. The principle that the welfare of the child is the court’s paramount consideration should be maintained.”

Children's charity, the NSPCC, has warned that reports to its helpline about neglect have doubled over the past two years to reach record levels, and that this increase is placing additional pressure on already stretched children's services.

The rise in reports of neglect to the NSPCC comes as local children's services face unprecedented pressures, with more children being taken into care, and more families needing help at a time of significant funding cuts.

Last year over 21,000 children in the UK were subject to child protection plans because they were at risk of harm from neglect - up 7.5% on the previous year. And recent statistics from CAFCASS, the organisation that represents children in care cases, revealed that in 2011/12 the total number of care applications for all reasons topped 10,000 for the first time.

Dr Ruth Gardner, head of the NSPCC's neglect programme, said: "More people than ever are contacting the NSPCC about child neglect. Some of this will be down to the public being more willing to speak out - and this can only be a positive thing - but there is clearly a worrying trend, not just in our figures, but from a range of agencies and bodies. More research is needed on why this sharp increase has occurred.

"Professor Eileen Munro highlighted in her review of social work the importance of acting quickly to tackle neglect, before problems spiral out of control. But social workers tell us they need better tools and training to help them identify and tackle neglect earlier. And parents need access to support to help them to change their neglectful behaviour. If we are to tackle this growing problem, these two issues must be addressed."

Commenting on new research from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) that claims that local authorities are acting more quickly to process care applications, Sue Kent, professional officer, British Association of Social Workers (BASW), said:

“It is welcome that Guardians feel local authorities are making more timely and appropriate interventions, and the fact that more serious neglect cases are being picked up is clearly vitally important for improving the life chances of vulnerable children. The rise in neglect cases reaching court perhaps could be seen as the impact of the ever worsening economic climate on many families who are struggling to cope.

“However, increasing demand must be matched by resources on the ground, to protect the integrity and professionalism of all children’s social workers, regardless of the field they work in. Although the child’s main professional relationship is with their local authority social worker, BASW members within Cafcass have previously reported that as children’s guardians, the restricted timescale, coupled with ever increasing workloads, often compromises their ability to practice ethically, as they have less time to develop relationships with children to represent their best interests in court cases, and ensure the local authority care plan is the right one for them.

“It is notable that the Cafcass report emphasises that family court work ‘does not detract from the importance of family support services to parents, aimed at preventing, as far as is possible, family breakdown and neglect’, since this area of work  – offering a genuine alternative to care proceedings is currently stretched beyond what is acceptable.

“This has to be a concern for the future, how are these families going be supported, and how will social workers cope with this ever increasing rise in their work while cuts to resources continue.”

To mark International Missing Children’s Day on May 25th, the charity PACT (Parents and Abducted Children Together) has announced the launch of a brand-new Missingkids website, redesigned in collaboration with the police agency, CEOP, which will take operational control of the site.

This brings into being an effective UK national system for tackling the ever-growing problem of missing and abducted children. It is something for which PACT has campaigned for almost ten years.

PACT is an international, non-profit organisation, registered in the UK and the US. PACT’s initial mission was to fight parental child abduction across frontiers by raising awareness of a growing, but little-known, problem and by advocating solutions. Today, PACT has broadened its mission to include all missing children.

The Founder and Chief Executive of PACT, Lady Catherine Meyer, said:

“With over 140,000 children going missing in the UK each year – more than one every five minutes – I am delighted to announce this major breakthrough in PACT’s decade-long campaign to reform the way we tackle this tragic issue.

“With the re-launch of the Missingkids website, and CEOP’s taking responsibility for missing and abducted children, we finally have the tools to bring hope to those whose children have gone missing or been abducted."

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