London pilot project reduces duration of care proceedings from 49 to 26 weeks
‘Triborough’ research published
A team from the Centre for Research on Children and Families at the University of East Anglia has evaluated a high profile pilot project in London to reduce the duration of care proceedings.
The pilot was a year-long programme running from April 2012 to March 2013, in the 'Triborough' local authorities – Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea, and Westminster. The pilot succeeded in getting the median duration down from 49 weeks the year before, to 26 weeks (based on cases starting in the first nine months of the pilot, and excluding those that went to the specialist 'Family Drugs and Alcohol Court').
This significant change was thanks to concerted effort from the local authority social work and legal teams, private solicitors, the courts and Cafcass. All involved were conscious of the need to balance swifter decision-making with proper requirements of fairness and thoroughness.
The key findings were as follows:
- The fact that the median length of proceedings is now around 26 weeks means, of course, that half the cases are still taking longer than 26 weeks. This should not necessarily be viewed in a negative light since some case-by-case flexibility about the length of proceedings is surely necessary in the interests of children's welfare and justice. The pilot demonstrates that some flexibility can coexist with meaningful efforts to bear down on unnecessary court delay.
- Proceedings involving a single child were shorter (median 25 weeks) than those involving sibling groups (32 weeks). Proceedings resulting in a care order, with or without a concurrent placement order were shorter (median 20 weeks) than cases resulting in a special guardianship order (26 weeks) or in the child returning or remaining at home on a supervision order, with or without a residence order (29 weeks).
- The pilot has been successful in reducing the number of court hearings. Excluding FDAC cases, the reduction was from a mean number of 5.2 hearings to mean of 3.9 (24% decrease).
- There is no evidence that the reduction in the length of care proceedings has been achieved at the expense of more delay in the pre-court period.
- While many stakeholders expressed concerns about the potential for justice to be compromised by a rigid 26 week target, no one suggested that this had actually occurred.
- The case manager role was vital to the success of the pilot, and will continue to be vital in the future.
- Commitment and leadership in all agencies (local authorities, Cafcass and the courts), and robust court management by judges and magistrates, were vital to the success of the pilot and will continue to be vital in the future.
- Dedicated court time, and the availability of guardians at the initial hearing have been important to the success of the pilot. The reduction that has achieved could not be sustained if court timetabling problems or non-availability of guardians were to hold things up. This may prove a problem in areas outside the Tri-boroughs, or in the Tri-boroughs themselves in the future if numbers of proceedings were to rise.
- Working in the new way does not necessarily take more time, but it almost certainly requires more energy. This is one reason why active leadership and monitoring of workloads and outcomes continue to be essential requirements.
The researchers were Dr Chris Beckett, Dr Jonathan Dickens and Sue Bailey. The full report is available here.