Putting children and young people first in the family courts

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Updating the Private Law Programme

For Cafcass, private law and public law are equally important. Children in both types of case have an equal right to our help. Having spent considerable time over the last year reviewing the public law framework, we have now turned our attention to private law. Along with our partner agencies, we are updating the 2010 Private Law Programme in the run-up to new legislation next year. The legislation set out in the Children and Families Bill will be a challenge for all those working in the system to deliver, yet we can draw considerable confidence from the successful implementation so far of radical changes to the public law system. That shows agencies in the family justice system can change together, improve the service and reduce costs.

We want to strengthen our work when we receive a court application by continuing to produce a short case analysis, which includes the information from child protection checks. We also want to play our part in diverting those cases from court which can be safely diverted. From April 2014, all court applicants will have to go to a Mediation Information and Assessment meeting (MIAM), before they can make a court application. We hope most parties will conclude there is more benefit from sitting down with a third party like a mediator, to resolve differences and make the decisions that need to be taken for the child or children in question.

For those applications which need to go to court, we think a PLO-type case management approach will mean cases are determined much more quickly, with the aim of resolving uncertainty for the child. Many local courts such as those in Staffordshire and South Devon are taking that approach already and making a positive difference as a result. We try to be as involved as we can be from the point of court duty to the end of a case, bringing our experience of dispute resolution practice and casework to the most intractable family situations.

We have just developed a toolkit for working with families in private law cases where the child is at risk of emotional harm as a consequence of enduring high conflict. Emotional harm is usually invisible and often concealed, so awareness of its effect is a complex professional task. We are piloting the use of a child impact analysis within our overall case analysis to understand the situation a child faces and to report that to court accurately.

We hope to have all of these changes developed and worked through with our partner agencies by next Spring, in time for the legislation commencing soon after that. In my view, this work will help us to put in place a more sustainable system in place and also to support the greater number of litigants in person as effectively as we can.

 

Written by Chief Executive Anthony Douglas at 00:00

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