Putting children and young people first in the family courts

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Looking back on 2013

Anthony Douglas2013 has flown by. So much has happened. The changes to public law case management in English and Welsh family courts has reduced the time the average case takes by almost half, which means less delay for children. We have worked closely with the judiciary and local authorities to promote social workers and guardians as experts in assessing what children who may have been neglected or abused need in future. The sea change in the way we work in these cases has been remarkable. In my view, this been achieved without miscarriages of justice to parents, which was a fear. The onus is on local authorities to provide parents with early help and for parents to use that help to show that if they have had major problems, they can turn their lives around.  Another sea change of equal magnitude has been the changes to legal aid entitlement in private law cases. The norm in court cases is now for parents to be unrepresented, which means that judges, magistrates, Cafcass practitioners and court staff have to explain how a court case works as well as conducting it. Litigants without lawyers are not new, but there are many more applicants with this status. In 2014, one of our main tasks as a family justice system is to improve access to pre-court services, so that court really is restricted to cases where a child needs protection from one parent or the other, or both. Even in the toughest and the so-called intractable private law cases, dispute resolution remains the most likely service to achieve a safe settlement for children.  In public law cases, a culture of urgency has supplanted a culture of delay. In private law cases, we need to extend dispute resolution into every stage of every case. Without a doubt, 2014 will be as tough as 2013, but Cafcass sees itself at the heart of the changes to the family justice system, keeping the focus on children as best we can, whatever the difficulties. We will do the same next year, and in the year after, and in the year after that.

Written by Chief Executive Anthony Douglas at 00:00

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