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New research identifies impact of shortened care proceedings

Fewer care orders and placement orders made; more special guardianship and supervision orders

The introduction of the 26 week timetable for care proceedings has halved their average length. Research, led by Professor Judith Masson, provides insight into the impact this is having on the decisions being made on behalf of vulnerable children. For an article outlining the initial findings from the first part of the study on court process and decision-making, click here. For further details of the research project, click here.

Under the Children and Families Act 2014, new procedures were introduced with the aim of cutting the time it took for family courts to make decisions about whether children needed to be protected from neglect or abuse to 26 weeks, half the time these cases were previously taking.

Researchers at the Universities of Bristol and East Anglia carried out the first detailed analysis of the working of the procedures, known as the Public Law Outline (PLO), on the decisions made by the courts. These are decisions that have major impacts for children, their families, for local authorities who work with them and for all professionals who act in care proceedings.

The study involved a detailed examination of the cases of over 300 children filed in 2014-2015 in England and Wales. A summary of key findings indicate that:

This raised some questions:

At a seminar entitled, "How is the PLO working?" which took place on the 31January 2017, Professor Masson presented key findings from the project with contributions and reflections from: 

The seminar concluded that early completion is important as it saves the parties a further period of anxiety – an average of 6 weeks in the study cases. It also saves court hearing time, a very important factor considering the pressure on the courts.  However:

The second part of the study will examine how the children fared after the end of proceedings, providing more understanding about the effects of shorter proceedings on children's welfare.

For the article outlining the initial findings, click here.