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Barnardo’s attacks "unprecedented delay" in care proceedings

9 August 2010

Children’s charity Barnardo’s has attacked the county and family courts for “unprecedented delay” in making care and supervision orders.

Jonathan Djanogly, the justice minister, told Parliament earlier this summer that county courts were taking up to 65 weeks to rule on care orders and family proceedings courts up to 50 weeks.

The worst county court delays were in London, Cumbria and Lancashire, the worst family proceeding court delays in Cheshire and Merseyside, London and southeast Wales.

Barnado’s described the wide regional variations as a “postcode lottery”, with county courts in Humber and south Yorkshire taking only 46 weeks to make orders and only a week more in mid and west Wales.

However, the delays in the court system are not new and in London care proceedings took even longer in 2004-05.

Martin Narey, chief executive of Barnardo’s, said insecurity had spread through the family courts, resulting in additional expert assessments being routinely ordered.

“This, paired with the evident lack of credence given to social workers, is causing unnecessary delay,” he said.

“The courts need urgently to 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.”

Barnados is calling for a “guillotine” to be applied so that all cases are dealt with in less than 30 weeks, with a target of 12 weeks for children under 18 months.

The Baby P effect can be seen in the dramatic rise from 2008 to 2009 in the number of care proceedings currently open.

In Greater Manchester the figure rose by more than 50 per cent from 353 to 547, in Cumbria and Lancashire from 200 to 297, and in the West Midlands and Warwickshire from 294 to 464.

The Ministry of Justice has said that delays in care proceedings were being considered by its family justice review panel, which had met representatives from Barnardo’s.

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