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Research on the effect of the PLO and Re B-S on care proceedings published

Child protection in Court: Outcomes for Children reports the findings of research by the Universities of Bristol and East Anglia on reforms to care proceedings in 2013-14, and their impact on children. This study examined care proceedings in 373 cases and the outcomes for 616 children, comparing (random samples of) proceedings and their outcomes for children before and after the reforms. It found:

• The Public Law Outline (PLO) halved the length of care proceedings – the average duration after the reform was just over 26 weeks but varied between courts.

• Following the decisions in Re B and Re B-S court orders also changed – there were far fewer placement orders and more supervision orders and special guardianship orders.

• Children placed for adoption were younger following the reforms and those who left care at the end of proceedings spent less time in care, reducing local authority placement costs.

Linking court and administrative data made it possible to see when children entered, left or re-entered local authority care in connection with proceedings. For example:

• A quarter of children were already in care when the proceedings started, and another quarter entered care in the first week of proceedings. 

• A fifth of children were never in care in connection with their proceedings – they went to relatives or remained at home under supervision when interim care order applications were refused or withdrawn.

• Many children left care when proceedings ended, moving to relatives or returning to parents.

• Those remaining in care left when they were adopted or much later at age 18 years.

• After the reforms, more children left care at the end of proceedings, a third of those who moved to relatives did so without a trial period when the order was made.

This lack of preparation for children and carers, and the short time some courts allowed for kin assessments has led to new guidance for the courts on kin placements.

The children's outcomes after care proceedings were compared after the end of the proceedings. Data on children's outcomes came from administrative records on the care system and family courts proceedings, and children's social care case files. Together these provided information about children's care histories, including number of placements and leaving care, contact arrangements, support services and new family court proceedings. Using this information, the researchers assessed the children's well-being.  They found:

• One year after care proceedings, the children's well-being was generally positive.

• At five years, most of the sample children in local authority care had maintained or improved well-being

• wellbeing scores were less positive for children in parental care, and a quarter had entered care.

• Better outcomes were achieved where children and their carers were well-supported and family contact was positive.

Children's outcomes could not be predicted but it was presumed that children whose neglect or abuse had resulted in care proceedings would have additional needs; also, that parents would continue to struggle with the problems that had resulted in care proceedings.

The full report of the study is available here. An executive summary is available here. The research team have also prepared three 4-page summaries on key findings on Court Proceedings, Children's Outcomes and Insights from Linking Court and Care Data available here.

News item supplied by Judith MassonUniversity of Bristol