(Guest post from family lawyers in England) MPs have started to call for a change in how the courts decide about which children should be going into care, the Observer has reported. Various Members of Parliament have warned that judges tend to have little experience in matters regarding family law, and instead rely almost solely on the evidence given to them by social workers.
According to the report from the Child Protection All Party Parliamentary Group (CPAPPG) – a group made up of child protection experts as well as MPs – the majority of the children who do end up in care never speak to the judge who decides to take them from their families.
A Call for Reform
The group has suggested that the recently introduced Children and Families Bill will not do enough to ease the problems in the child protection system, a system which is currently already faltering under its massive workload.
The CPAPPG want judges to ask children whether or not they would like to talk to them, to voice any concerns or to make known any information which might be left out or overlooked by a social worker, before they make their final decision on care.
The group has also called for a greater number of judges who have more experience in family law, as a large number of those involved in care decisions have little to no knowledge of the workings of the system, instead relying entirely on the evidence produced by overworked social workers, who have themselves said they felt “under huge pressure” in such cases, as well as feeling “intimidated by judges”.
The CPAPPG expressed its concerns that the voices of those children who end up being taken into care are not being taken into consideration nearly enough and that these children felt let down by the legal system or their court rulings.
They expressed a desire for all judges presiding over care order cases to ensure that they speak to the children involved before making a ruling, in order to understand the wishes of said children and to make a better, more informed decision in the long run.
There are a large number of family law solicitors, such as those featured on www.switalskisfamilylaw.co.uk, but not enough family law judges, claimed the group. They want the government to make sure that any judge to preside over family court cases is a specialist in the area of family law, especially since the recent increase in workload.
Since the shocking case of Baby P, in which the social care system failed drastically, more and more experts in child protection have taken a more proactive, interventionist approach to their work, and this has led to further strain on the system.
Last year, the number of children in care was up 13% on the previous 12 month period, and it was reported that some independent review officers had worked on around 200 cases in that year – much higher than the recommended 50-70! It is for these reasons as well that the CPAPPG are crying out for change.