Justice Committee - Pre-legislative scrutiny of the Children and Families BillWritten evidence from the Tri-borough Care Proceedings Pilot (CFB 13)

1. Our submission focuses on the public law elements of the proposed Children and Families Bill as the work we have undertaken is not concerned with private law. The Care Proceedings Pilot aims to promote good decision making in the court and reduce unnecessary delay for children undergoing care proceedings.

2. Working together with the judiciary, the court services, Cafcass and other key stakeholders, the Tri-borough local authorities (Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea, and Westminster) have begun a pilot project whose aim is to minimise unnecessary delay. The Care Proceedings Pilot commenced on 1st April 2012 and will last for 12 months during which time it is estimated up to 100 cases will be heard.

3. The target duration for Care Proceedings within the pilot is 26 weeks, thus halving the length of time that children and families are living with uncertainty. The Family Justice Review estimated that on average, there are 8.8 hearings per case. The pilot aims to reduce this number to 4 hearings per case.

4. Key stakeholders including the local authority social work and legal departments, Cafcass, the court staff and judiciary, have all made commitments to change the way they operate with a shared goal of:

improving the quality of local authority evidence presented to the court;

ensuring early allocation and case analysis from Cafcass Guardians;

providing judicial continuity and social worker continuity for every case;

reducing the delay caused by additional assessments; and

tracking cases and creating a feedback loop to enable stakeholders to learn and adapt as the pilot progresses.

5. The end of September 2012 marked the half way point of the Pilot and there are promising indicators of success. A number of the early cases have completed within the target 26 weeks and there has been a reduction in numbers of hearings and additional assessments. Inevitably the most straightforward cases have completed first and the challenge will be to produce a similar trend for more complex cases. Stakeholders have identified that for pilot cases, there is a culture of urgency within the court and more of a focus on the impact of delay for individual children.

6. Lessons from the Pilot are being disseminated to other London boroughs and with funds from Capital Ambition, project resource time is being provided to help agencies across London implement similar models in their areas.

7. An independent evaluation will be commissioned and is expected to report its findings by the end of June 2013.

The Tri-borough Care Proceedings Pilot

1. Background and Objectives

1.1The Care Proceedings Pilot aims to improve decision making in court and reduce unnecessary delay for children who are the subject of Care Proceedings in the Tri-borough (London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, City of Westminster).

1.2In the Tri-borough the average duration for Care Proceedings during the year 2011/12 was between 50 and 60 weeks. The aim is that in pilot cases unnecessary delay will be significantly reduced and cases will complete within an average of 26 weeks.

1.3In reducing the duration of care proceedings, there will be clear benefits for children including:

For babies and young children, a swifter move to permanent placement which will promote attachment to a consistent carer.

For older children a reduction in a period of huge uncertainty, anxiety and emotional upheaval.

The impact of early permanent attachment for young children, and similarly more stable placements for older children will have a lasting effect for children as they grow into adulthood, helping to build resilience and improving their life chances.

1.4 The Care Proceedings Pilot was designed following a local analysis of reasons for delay in the court process which took place during 2010–11. The local findings very much coincided with the national findings as reported in the Family Justice Review in November 2011, and the Tri-borough therefore finds itself in the position of being able to provide an example of early implementation of a number of the Review’s recommendations.

1.5 The objectives of the Care Proceedings Pilot are:

To improve the quality of local authority social work evidence provided to the court.

To ensure early allocation and case analysis from Cafcass Guardians.

To provide judicial continuity, Guardian continuity and social work continuity.

To reduce the need for additional assessments commissioned during proceedings.

To track the progression of cases and engage in post case reviews thus creating a feedback loop enabling all stakeholders to learn and adapt as the pilot progresses.

2. Agency contributions to the Tri-borough Care Proceedings Pilot

2.1 Working together with the judiciary, the court services, Cafcass and other key stakeholders, the Tri-borough local authorities commenced the Care Proceedings Pilot on 1st April 2012 and will last for 12 months during which time it is estimated up to 100 cases will be heard.

2.2 The pilot is overseen by a steering group which meets bi-monthly and whose membership includes the key stakeholders within the family law system. A project manager has been appointed to oversee the pilot and ensure that all stakeholders remain fully engaged.

2.3 Each of the key agencies involved has examined their own practice in relation to delay for children and each is contributing to the pilot in different ways. The diagram below outlines the key factors that were identified in causing delay for children—those elements in the top arrows speed the process up, those at the bottom slow it down.


2.4 Each of the key elements of the pilot is described in more detail in the following paragraphs.

2.5 The local authority aim to significantly improve their submissions and presentation in court. With the assistance of a new post of Case Manager who works directly with social workers and managers across all three boroughs, the intention is to improve the quality of social work assessments and statements presented to court. The aim is that statements are purposeful, concise and clearly lay out the work that has been undertaken up to that point. The Case Manager works in a coaching role to help social workers produce high quality statements and to be explicit about the impact of delay on each individual child. Structures and systems have been re-arranged to provide social work continuity from first to final hearing.

2.6 Both the Inner London Family Proceedings Court and the Principal Registry of the Family Division are working to provide judicial continuity in as many cases as possible. Magistrates and judges are working to implement tighter case management of timescales for the child from the court.

2.7 Cafcass have made a commitment to provide timely and proportionate involvement from Guardians with cases being allocated and solicitors for the child being appointed from the first hearing. This provides early analysis and gives the case direction and urgency from the very beginning of the proceedings.

2.8 The pilot has been working with providers of multi-disciplinary and parenting assessments across the Tri-borough to reduce assessment timescales. Providers have agreed that rather than taking a fixed period of time for all assessments, they will adopt an approach which is proportionate to the complexity of the case and the needs of each family. Some parenting assessments may still take 12 weeks, but many will be of a much shorter duration.

2.9 Similarly, the Tri-borough fostering and adoption service will provide relative assessments which aim to be of a shorter duration than the standard 16 weeks. The working principle will be that the length of time an assessment takes will reflect the circumstances of the particular family. For the majority of cases, judgements about their suitability to care either short or long term for the child in question, will not require a 16 week period and most will be completed within 10 weeks. Reducing the time taken for these additional assessments will considerably impact on the overall duration of care proceedings.

2.10 The project incorporates a mechanism for creating a feedback and learning loop throughout the life of the pilot. By monitoring and tracking cases and examining process, costs and outcomes for children and holding quarterly post case reviews in which all stakeholders engage in a systems analysis and critical reflection, the project is able to learn from practice.

2.11 An independent evaluation is being commissioned and to assess whether the pilot has met its objectives, the financial benefits and the impact on outcomes for children.

3. Early findings

3.1 The Care Proceedings Pilot has been operating for six months and early results are very encouraging. To date, six cases have completed in an average time of 14.2 weeks and with an average number of 3.7 hearings. A further 11 cases have final hearing dates set and if they are not postponed, will bring this figure to an average of 20.3 weeks with an average 4.4 hearings. Inevitably, the most straightforward cases have completed first and the more complex cases will raise this average figure.

3.2 There is evidence of a change in patterns of behaviour within the court and associated agencies, the most striking being the shared commitment of stakeholders to effect change and reduce unnecessary delay. There is a recognisable culture of urgency evident by a reduced number of hearings, a reduction in the number of additional assessments being commissioned and a transparent conversation in the courtroom about the impact of delay on individual children.

3.3 The challenges which the pilot still faces fall into three areas: developing the analytical skills of social workers to ensure evidence is well presented in court; adapting the court structure to enable judicial and magistrate continuity in the family courts; and ensuring that the positive early findings of the pilot are sustainable in the long term.

3.4 The Family Justice Review recommends a single family court to improve effectiveness and there are plans in place to combine the family proceedings court (Inner London Family Proceedings Court) with the care centre (Principal Registry of the Family Division). This will ensure a more streamlined approach with minimum disruption that is currently associated with transfer of cases from one court to another.

3.5 Sustaining the changes we have already seen in the pilot will be a major challenge for the project. There is energy and attention focused on project activity and a keen interest in seeing progress across the Tri-borough. In the second half of the pilot the project will need to focus on maintaining the energy and transferring new behaviours into routine behaviours.

4. Financial Analysis

4.1 The 2011/12 analysis of baseline costs across the Tri-borough show a total spend on Child Care Proceedings of approx £11 million (see Table below). Across the Tri-borough, the majority of costs are on Legal Costs. 48% of costs are on the Legal Services Commission and 27% on Local Authority Solicitors and Barristers. The work of the pilot will include an analysis of savings over the 12 month period. The reduction in costs which will follow from a reduced number of hearings is likely to provide a further driving force to sustain the success of the pilot.

2011–12 Baseline Cost for Tri-borough






Social Work





Judge or Magistrate





Cafcass Guardian Work





LA Solicitors





LA Barristers or Counsel





Legal Services Commission



Parenting assessments





Court fees










5. Plans to disseminate the learning to other London Boroughs

5.1 The practice in the Care Proceedings Pilot reflects many of the recommendations of the Family Justice Review and is providing a local model which is being disseminated to other areas in London. Capital Ambition, an organisation comprising representatives from the 33 London Boroughs have given a grant to the project to extend the learning from the pilot more widely.

5.2 Dialogue has commenced with 20 London boroughs who are discussing how they might implement the model and make use of the materials that have been developed in the Tri-borough. Project management resource is being offered to other London boroughs who are in a position to benefit from implementation of similar work programmes to those in the Tri-borough Care Proceedings Pilot. At this stage, the main activity is bringing stakeholders together to discuss the options for adoption of elements of the Care Proceedings Pilot in their local area. Members of the judiciary and the court service and Cafcass who have been working within the Care Proceedings Pilot are actively supporting activity to extend the workings of the pilot to other London areas.

6. Comments on specific features of the family justice clauses within the proposed Children and Families Bill

On the basis of our learning from the pilot to date, we have outlined our views on three of the areas in which the call for evidence invited specific comment.

6.1 Expert evidence: There is support from those involved in the pilot for the new test although stakeholders believe that the measure only outlines what should be already happening in decision-making about additional assessments. Our pilot demonstrates that the two key elements in reducing unnecessary or duplicate assessments are: firstly, the quality of local authority evidence in which there is a balanced view and no gaps; and secondly, the culture in court which enables confident magistrates or judges to weigh up the balance between allowing further assessment in response to parents’ representations, against the need to minimise delay for the child.

6.2 Time Limits: Early findings from the Care Proceedings Pilot indicate that for the majority of cases the 26 time limit can be achieved.

6.3 Care Plans: There is a mixed view from stakeholders involved in the pilot about how much responsibility should be held by the judge or magistrates for scrutiny of the care plan. On the one hand, it is believed that the care plan is frequently the significant part of the case and the court therefore has a key role in decision making on the basis of conflicting evidence. On the other hand it is recognised that plans are subject to variation in response to the changing circumstances following the final order, and that in this context it is not in the interest of the child to prolong care proceedings to determine the detail of the care plan. If it is agreed that the court will have less responsibility in this area, then the emphasis on the role of the Cafcass Guardian in representing the child must be maintained to ensure that the plan is in the child’s best interest.

October 2012

Prepared 18th December 2012