Related Sector: Health & Social Care
Cafcass have revealed figures showing a 14% increase in applications for care orders in 2015/16 compared to the previous year.
Francesca Burfield, Barrister and Bond Solon’s Principal trainer for Children’s Social Care, believes that we should not be surprised to see an increase in the number of applications for care orders being made to the court following the decisions of Re N  EWCA Civ 1112 and Medway Council v M and T  EWFC B164.
These two decisions come at the end of an increasing wave of concern about social workers' misuse of section 20 of the Children Act 1989. Section 20 was only ever intended for voluntary short term periods with a clear purpose when a family need planned support. However, many local authorities having been using it inappropriately as an alternative to care orders which has resulted in large numbers of children drifting in a system without any clear and purposeful plan for their long term future.
Sir James Munby has recently expressed criticism regarding social workers readiness to employ section 20 with little or no appreciation of the legal impact of that decision upon the family and with very little dialogue or explanation with the family. His main concerns include:
- Social workers failing to get informed consent from parents
- When consent is obtained, this is not always evidenced in writing
- Local authorities are reluctant to return children once consent by the parents/carers is withdrawn
- Children are remain for far too long under section 20 arrangements
Francesca would also like to add these further concerns for authorities to consider:
- Quite often children under section 20 arrangements are the most vulnerable but have the lowest level of protection through this arrangement
- The child and the parents are denied the right to legal and independent advice
- Do the parents ever give their free consent when being threatened with care proceedings as the alternative?
- Do the family appreciate the significance in law when they provide consent?
- As the threshold criteria cannot necessarily be met for a care order, it would be likely refused by the court. Therefore, social workers are often making false threats to the family by saying they will apply for a care order to remove the child, in order to coerce the family into making an agreement under section 20.
As a result of these decisions it should be anticipate that there will be an increase in section 20 arrangements being converted into interim care order applications; hence the increase in care order applications.
However, this in itself should not be cause for concern as it may well equate to the most vulnerable children being offered a much more appropriate level of safeguarding in law.
Barrister and Principal Children’s Social Care Trainer
15 Apr 2016 13:57
Thank you Bond Solon! Great insight!
Service Manager Social Work
29 Apr 2016 15:03
Useful clarification and summary - would be pleased to receive similar in busy world of information
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