About the Family Law Week blog

The Family Law Week Blog is a companion site to Family Law Week. It complements the news, cases and articles published on Family Law Week with additional comment and coverage of the wider aspects of family law.

The Blog is edited by Jacqui Gilliatt, of 4 Brick Court and Lucy Reed, of St Johns Chambers.

Monday, 22 September 2008

Bundles

Thanks to John Bolch of Family Lore for this post on Munby J on bundles . You have been warned.

DCSF Figures

Key points from the latest DCSF Figures

Children looked after at 31 March 2008
• There were 59,500 children looked after at 31 March 2008, 1 per cent
fewer than last year’s figure of 60,000 and a decrease of 3 per cent
compared to 2004 (61,200).

• Overall, the main reason why social services first engaged with these
children looked after was because of abuse or neglect (62 per cent). This
percentage has changed little over the past 5 years.

• Most children looked after at 31 March 2008 were of White British origin
(74 per cent). Their number and percentage has decreased over the last 5
years from 46,300 (76 per cent) in 2004 to 43,900 (74 per cent) in 2008.
The breakdown by the different ethnic groups has remained similar since
2004.

• At 31 March 2008, 37,200 children were looked after under a care order
which represents 63 per cent of all legal statuses. This is a decrease of 4
per cent from last year’s figure of 38,600 and a decrease of 6 per cent from
2004 (39,700). 6 per cent of children were looked after under a placement
order.

• 42,300 children looked after at 31 March 2008 were in a foster placement
(71 per cent). This is an increase of 1 per cent on the previous year’s figure
of 42,100 and an increase of 3 per cent from 2004 (41,200).

Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC)
• There were 3,500 UASC who were looked after at 31 March 2008, this is an increase of around 100 children compared to the figure for 2007.

• In 2008 the percentage of UASC children of Black African origin decreased by 7 percentage points to 24 per cent, whilst the percentage of UASC children of any other Asian background increased by 7 percentage points to 31 per cent.

Mothers aged 12 and over

• There were 280 mothers aged 12 and over who were looked after at 31 March 2008, a decrease of 20 per cent from the previous year’s figure of 360 and a decrease of 5 per cent from the 2005 figure.

Children who started to be looked after during the year ending 31 March 2008
• There were 23,000 children who started to be looked after during the year ending 31 March 2008, a decrease of 4 per cent from the previous year’s figure of 24,000 and a decrease of 8 per cent from the 2003-04 figure of 25,000.

• During the year ending 31 March 2008, 38 per cent of children who started to be looked after were aged between 10 and 15 years old. This figure has decreased over the past 5 years.

• The percentage of children who started to be looked after in the year ending 31 March 2008 who were white British has decreased over the last 5 years from 71 per cent in 2003-04 to 66 per cent in 2007-08.

Children who ceased to be looked after during the year ending 31 March 2008
• There were 24,100 children who ceased to be looked after during the year ending 31 March 2008, a decrease of 3 per cent from the previous year’s figure of 25,000 and a decrease of 6 per cent from the 2003-04 figure of 25,700.

• The percentage of children who ceased to be looked after aged between 5 and 9 years old decreased over the last 4 years from 17 per cent in 2003-04 to 13 per cent in 2007-08. There was a similar drop in the 10 to 15 age category where the percentage dropped from 30 per cent in 2003-04 to 24 per cent in 2007-08. However, the percentage of children who ceased to be looked after aged 16 and over increased over the past 5 years from 27 per cent in 2003-04 to 34 per cent in 2007-08.

• The proportion of children of white British ethnic origin who ceased to be looked after decreased from 74 per cent in 2004 to 68 per cent in 2007-08 whereas the proportions of children from other Asian backgrounds and of African ethnic origin have increased from 1 per cent in 2003-04 to 3 per cent in 2007-08 and from 4 per cent in 2003-04 to 6 per cent in 2007-08 respectively.

• In the year ending 31 March 2008, most children who ceased to be looked after had a foster placement as their final placement (12,600). This represents 52 per cent of all final placements.

Mothers aged 12 and over who ceased to be looked after
• There were 340 mothers aged 12 and over who ceased to be looked after during the year ending 31 March 2008, an increase of 3 per cent from the previous year’s figure of 330.

Children looked after who were adopted during the year ending 31 March 2008
• 3,200 children looked after were adopted during the year ending 31 March 2008. This represents a 5 per cent decrease from the previous year’s figure of 3,300 and a 16 per cent decrease from the 2003-04 figure of 3,800.

• The number of children looked after who were under 1 year old at adoption decreased over the last 5 years from 220 in 2003-04 to 120 in 2007-08.

• The percentage of children looked after who were adopted that were of white ethnic origin decreased over the past 5 years from 86 per cent in 2003-04 to 83 per cent in 2007-08, whereas the percentage of mixed ethnic origin children looked after who were adopted increased over the same period from 9 per cent in 2003-04 to 11 per cent in 2007-08.

• Before being adopted in 2007-08, 9 per cent of children were looked after under a freed for adoption final legal status, 23 per cent were looked after under a care order and 61 per cent were looked after under a placement order.

• The average duration of the final period of care that children looked after had before being adopted in 2007-08 was 2 years and 7 months. This has changed little over the past 5 years.

Adopters of children looked after who were adopted in the year ending 31 March 2008
• 91 per cent of children looked after who were adopted in 2007-08 were adopted by two people (2,900). Most adopters were married (84 per cent), 5 per cent of adopters were an unmarried couple (different gender), 2 per cent of adopters were an unmarried couple (same gender) and 1 per cent of adopters were civil partners.

• 9 per cent of children looked after who were adopted in 2007-08 were adopted by a single adopter. Of these single adopters, 99 per cent were female.

• This is the second year this information has been collected. The percentage of children looked after who were adopted by two people have remained the same at 91% as have the percentage of adopters who were married at 84%.

Children who ceased to be looked after aged 16 years and over during the year ending
31 March 2008


• The number of children aged 16 years and over who ceased to be looked after during the year ending 31 March increased from 6,900 in 2003-04 to 8,300 in 2007-08.

• 61 per cent of these children ceased to be looked after on their 18th birthday, 24 per cent ceased to be looked after aged 16 years.

• The percentage of children aged 16 and over who ceased to be looked after during the year ending 31 March of white British ethnic origin decreased from 71 per cent to 62 per cent over the last 5 years whereas the percentage of those from other Asian backgrounds and of African ethnic origin increased respectively from 1 per cent in 2003-04 to 5 per cent in 2007-08 and from 6 per cent in 2003-04 to 9 per cent in 2007-08, although the percentage of African origin dropped by 1 percentage point from last year’s figures.

• Before ceasing to be looked after during the year ending 31 March 2008, 3,200 children aged 16 and over were in a foster placement (39 per cent), 2,100 in secure units, children’s homes and hostels (25 per cent) and 1,900 were placed in the community (23 per cent).

• In 2007-08, 47 per cent of these children had at least 1 GSCE or GNVQ (3,900) and 7 per cent of the 8,300 children obtained at least 5 GCSEs at grade A* to C.

Children now aged 19 years who were looked after on 1 April 2005 then aged 16 years
• The number of children now aged 19 years who were looked after on 1 April 2005 then aged 16 years increased from 5,100 in 2004 to 5,800 in 2008.

• Over the past 5 years, the percentage of children now aged 19 years who were in education other than higher education increased from 18 per cent to 28 per cent. The number for those who were in training or employment increased from 1,600 to 1,800 between 2004 and 2008. The number for those who were not in touch with the local authorities decreased from 15 per cent to 6 per cent over the last 5 year’s.

• Most children now aged 19 years who were looked after at 16 years were accommodated in independent living. This percentage has remained fairly stable over the last 5 year’s.

Children aged under 16 years who have been looked after continuously for at least two and a half years
• 67 per cent of children aged under 16 years who have been looked after continuously for at least two and a half years were in the same placement for at least two years, or were placed for adoption.

This relates to the Public Service Agreement (PSA) target which is to narrow the gap in educational achievement between looked after children and that of their peers, and improve their educational support and the stability of their lives so that by 2008, 80 per cent of children under 16 who have been looked after for two and a half years or more will have been living in the same placement for at least two years, or are placed for adoption.

American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers

I have recently come across the excellent website of this organisation as a result of a post on the Family Law Prog Blog about family law bibliographies. Unfortunately the bibliography referred to is not yet online but the Academy publihes a journal online with articles from previous journals available free. I came across a useful study of research on relocation orders ( here as a pdf file for example. There are also a number of model documents on the site such as advocacy standards & model relocation agreements.

News roundup

Rather to my surprise, the GMC has lifted the ban on Paediatrician Professor David Southall according to the Times with immediate effect, commenting on his apparent expressions of remorse and regret at the fitness-to-practise hearing last month. See also this story in the Independent about the concerns of Paediatricians over the GMC's approach to disciplinary matters and the impact on child protection work. There is a further High Court challenge relating to complaints against Professor Southall due to be heard in February next year. It is a moot point whether he should ever be instructed as an expert witness.

The Times also reports on this interesting divorce case in which a wife has been ordered £50,000 a year for the maintenance of ... her horses.

Mediation is discussed in an article by Kate Duncan in the Law Society Gazette .

The BBC reports that the Government is to sign the UN Convention on the rights of the child after 17 years of maintaining an opt-out in relation to child immigrants & judicial detention.

At last there is some sympathetic coverage in the Times for the family justice system when Frances Gibb was given access to court sitting alongside Mr Justice Hedley.

I make no apologies to a number of links to articles on Community Care all of which make interesting reading for the family law practitioner.


Community Care reports on the plans by Ofsted for more frequent inspections of Cafcass.

Community Care also carries an interview with the NSPCC consultant who advised the BBC over the Eastenders paedophile grooming story.

Community Care also comments on the huge increase in the number of special guardianship orders, figures for the year ending 31 Merch 2008 having been recently published by the DCSF (pdf file). The figures cover all aspects of the care system.

Community Care reviews an excellent international literature review on research relating to children living with domestic abuse and its implications for practice.

Finally Community Care covers the issue of childhood obesity .

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Proposed Funding Code changes

I am grateful to the Cafcass Google Group for drawing my attention to the proposed changes to the LSC Manual on which the LSC is currently consulting. The closing date is 21st October 2008.

Broadly the proposed changes are associated with the implementation of the Children & Adoption Act 2006 and exclude the costs of s 16A risk assessments and the costs of any activity related to promoting contact which the LSC expect will be borne by Cafcass. One issue that this may raise is that it may preclude the instruction of independent social workers which some Judges are having to resort to in private law cases because of the huge backlogs in Cafcass reports - see Pink Tape's post on this.

Whilst looking over the proposed changes I was reminded of two points. The first is that the LSC have now excluded from payment any assessment relating to residential assessments including a viability assessment or any assessment preparatory too or with a view to the possibility of a residential assessment.

Secondly I noticed the reference to client's travelling and accommodation expenses as being allowable disbursements. There is, of course a but. "The fact that an item is listed as an allowable disbursement means that it is capable of being allowed, not that it will be usual to do so. For example, clients' travelling and accommodation expenses will only be allowed in exceptional circumstances where the client is so impecunious that it is not otherwise possible to progress the case (see R v Legal Aid Board No 15 Area (Merseyside) ex parte Eccleston, The Times, May 6, 1998". The case quoted was one where a litigant needed to travel a long distance to see an expert and the Legal Aid Board was ordered to fund the travel. I would have thought that the expression 'so impecunious that it is not otherwise possible to progress the case' would cover most parents on benefits who need to attend court but I am aware that solicitors are often uncertain of what will and won't be allowed and so will not fund travel to court. It is more common for social services to end up doing so though this is almost always a source of dispute at least to begin with. It would be nice to have a clear view on this. Comments please! By the way the blog is now open for comments so it is much easier than it was before to join in a discussion so please feel free to do so.

Strategy meeting minutes

I have recently had cause to look at the thorny issue of disclosure of social services' documents and strategy meeting minutes in particular. The issue of document disclosure is also one which has been raised in much of the recent public commentary on the family justice system.

Two key judgments on disclosure are those of Charles J in Re R [2002] 1 FLR 755 and Munby J in Re L (Care Assessment: Fair Trial) [2002] 2 FLR 730In Re R, Charles J held that ‘It was rightly accepted that all parties are under a duty to make full and frank disclosure. Initially, this places a heavy burden on a local authority when presenting their case … it is also their duty … to confine issues and evidence to what is reasonably considered necessary for the proper presentation of the case. A proper presentation is, naturally, one that is fair and that has a proper regard to Art 6 of the Convention. That heavy burden arises in all cases where public law orders  are sought because of the nature of the proceedings.’ He later remarked that the requirement to protect confidentiality / public interest immunity was misunderstood. The starting point in considering disclosure is whether a document is relevant and necessary for the fair disposal of the case and he referred to the civil guidelines on relevance: a document will be relevant if it will be relied on by the party, it is adverse to his case, it is adverse to the other side’s case, it supports the other side’s case or it is required to be disclosed by a Practice Direction. He added that there are also human rights considerations which point to disclosure. He concluded that it could no longer be argued that social work records as a class were covered by public interest immunity and that any such arguments should be confined to history. If an attempt was to be made to justify non-disclosure the specific harm feared as a result of disclosure should be particularised. Local authorities & guardians should be more willing than they seem at present to exhibit relevant notes of conversations etc.

In Re L, Munby summarised the human rights considerations in the following terms: “First, that the fair trial guaranteed by Art 6 is not confined to the ‘purely judicial’ part of the proceedings. Unfairness at any stage of the litigation process may involve breaches not merely of Art 8 but also of Art 6. ...If the watchword of the Family Division is indeed openness¬ – and it is and must be – then documents must be made openly available and crucial meetings at which a family’s future is being decided must be conducted openly and with the parents, if they wish, either present or represented. Otherwise there is unacceptable scope for unfairness and injustice, not just to the parents but also to the children." Later in the judgment he sets out the principles and practices of disclosure which he says should be adopted, many of which have now been incorporated into the PLO. The PLO makes specific reference to the need to disclose strategy meeting minutes.

The Working Together to Safeguard Children document deals with strategy meetings at para 5.54 ff. It sets out the purpose of such meetings and what they should consider. This includes a reference to the need to “determine what information from the strategy discussion will be shared with the family, unless such information sharing may place a child at increased risk of significant harm or jeopardise police investigations into any alleged offence(s); and determine if legal action is required.”

In relation to the pre-proceedings stage, the PLO says at paragraphs 10.2 & 10.3:

“10.2 The documents which the court will expect to see attached to the application form for a care or supervision order are set out in the Pre-Proceedings Checklist… The ..checklist should be used at the earliest opportunity as a guide to what documents the court will expect to see at the start of proceedings and should be filed with the application form. The Pre-proceedings checklist will promote good case preparation.

10.3 It is recognised that in some cases the circumstances are such that the safety and welfare of the child may be jeopardised if the start of proceedings is delayed until all of the documents appropriate to the case and referred to in the ..checklist are available. The court recognises that the preparation may need to be varied to suit the circumstances of the case. The court is likely to make directions relating to the preparation of any missing documentation at the start of the proceedings and at the first appointment. The court also recognises that some documents on the Pre-proceedings checklist may not exist and may never exist, for example, the section 37 report, and that in urgent proceedings no letter before proceedings may have been sent.”

The pre-proceedings checklist of documents to be disclosed from local authority files includes key LA minutes & records for the child including strategy discussion record.

My recent experience suggests that local authorities may not be aware of the need to disclose strategy minutes and the same applies to the other agencies involved such as the police. It certainly was not routine before the PLO for these minutes to be disclosed. Clearly there will be situations when it is important not to disclose them before certain actions have been taken to gather evidence or interview possible suspects. Strategy chairs may need to be reminded that the meeting itself should consider what should be disclosed and whether there is any time sensitivity and ensure it is recorded in the minutes. LA legal departments who do not already have one might also wish to consider having a policy or protocol to ensure that child protection professionals are aware of the need to disclose and to set out any steps that need to be taken before disclosure is made. When proceedings are imminent or gateway meetings are about to happen parents' representatives will not unreasonably expect to have these documents as soon as possible. It may be appropriate and necessary to withold documents on some occasions but the local authority must be able to give a good reason for having done so to the court.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Information Security

The Law Society has published new guidance on managing information security . The document itself is not particularly helpful (you must have a written policy and should carry out a risk assessment!) but there are useful linnks to other websites with practical advice (particularly the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure ) and it is a timely reminder in light of the recent controversies about cds & laptops going missing. Family lawyers obviously hold a lot of confidential information in their offices and on computers and it should be kept secure even though it may seem of limited interest. Enlightened self-interest in any event as the same measures to keep data confidential and secure should also minimise threats from viruses, trojans and other malware as well as old-fashioned burglars.

News roundup

The main news, of course, is that I am back!

Families Need Fathers has received some rather unwelcome publicity due to the maverick intervention in a case of one of their officers according to the Times . I am not at all pleased to read about this as I have long admired their work and excellent website but perhaps they could have taken the same approach as they want us to take to this story when they were crowing over the iniquities of Bruce Hyman. One bad apple ....

The Times also covers the issue approval of sharia courts as arbitration tribunals .

The Times has been busy - there is also an article on the rise of collaborative law , the use by paedophiles of the internet
, another case of child abuse missed by LB Haringey & the piloting of a facility for mothers to request police checks of partners also covered in the Guardian .

The Magistrates' Association has published its response to consultation on barristers' fees for family law cases (as a word document : in summary expressing concerns about the damaging impact on the quality of representation and proposing that the fee changes should be postponed. The FLBA's response is summarised here : unsurprisingly unwelcoming and arguing that the proposals will increase costs.


Fathers4Justice: is it or is it not to be? That is the question according to this interesting post on Family Lore .

A former Head Teacher has persuaded a criminal court that the dopamine inducing medicine he was taking to treat his Parkinson's disease turned him into a paedophile according to the Independent , a defence which will no doubt soon be borrowed for the list currently topped by the entrap a paedophile in order to give them a good kicking line.



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Saturday, 6 September 2008

News roundup

Just as I am off on my holiday so the papers are starting to return to normal.


From the Independent covers an editorial in the BMJ suggesting that complaints from parents about allegations of child abuse may be putting off paediatricians from working in the area of child protection.

The Law Society Gazette reports on the rise in the rise of separate representation for children in private law applications - up 25% in 2 years - and the resource impact for Cafcass & the courts.

The Guardian covers the General Social Care Council's proposed new guidelines for social workers issued in response to the fact that over 40% of complaints against social workers have involved allegations of inappropriate relationships.

The Times comments on the objective of self-financing courts and the impact on the court service which is now facing a cash crisis.

Child Maintenance Options from CMEC is a new website with information about .... child maintenance! The website enables clients to check existing arrangements& provides information about the child maintenance system and the proposed changes.

Two new divorce related blogs Divorce : The Blog about .... divorce from Divorce Online & Divorce Manual from Natasha Phillips, a divorced lady with a legal background, none too impressed with the system.