Debby Smith looks at The Children & Families Act 2014
The new Children and Families Act 2014 came into place this week. Along came the usual frenzy from the press and social media. There was of course an abundance of scare mongering and hash tagging in relation to mediation and domestic violence. One item that seemed to have slipped through the automatic reactionaries net which bothers me is this;
“26-week time limit for completing care and supervision proceedings”
That is 6 months for a parent to turn their life around. Scenarios were racing through my mind in abundance. I actually played out in my mind, my own situation albeit long time ago now. The conclusion I came to if my children where in the care of the local authority under the new law they might have been adopted!
The Government are resolute in thinking adoption is the way forward. The onus is primarily on the Local Authority which leads me to think along the lines of this. As social workers are increasingly put under pressure, their duty of care is to remove children from harm etc., hence the beginning of care proceedings with a conclusion of a final hearing in 26 weeks. However, information, the placing of the children, reports, expert witness, plan for parents, and a way forward is to be collated and acted upon in this allotted timescale. The obligation on the Local Authority or a Cafcass officer is becoming very much your life in their hands and there are limited pathways back.
Where are all the foster carers coming from and the loving and caring adoptive families? I am thinking we will have a generation of children begging for answers from psychiatrists “why did my mummy not fight to keep me?” Someone somewhere will undoubtedly have the unenviable job of explaining that mummy or daddy simply didn’t have the time. Figures from the British Adoption and Fostering org say 68,110 children were in local authority care in 2013. The figure rose from the previous year and so in trend it should rise again this year unless, miraculously we see a sharp rise in positive parenting. As funds are required to operate the new law will increase yet the manpower to implement remains static. One can only worry as to whether the thin line to remove or not may become increasingly thicker.
The Judicial system is in disarray to put it mildly. More often parents are attending court as litigants in person often unrepresented, some with mental health, drug, alcohol issues. This will ultimately undermine the rule of law according to Lord Neuberger. Unfortunately some are attending court alone when they may be eligible for legal aid. There are no regulations at this time to monitor paid McKenzie friends without a legal qualification so once again the vulnerable are left exposed. The Personal Support Unit which operates inside the court building is a charity that is again run by unqualified volunteers. In this all singing and dancing new system there is no accountability for self-appointed support in court.
Not until someone in our brave new world stops, thinks, and puts the law to a test, the hands of both Judiciary and parents are handcuffed. Mouths gagged by the same Legislation. In reality there are some parents who with all the time and money and access to help, their issues will never resolve and the final outcome for their children will be adoption. I surmise the debate will gain momentum and hopefully gain media support in a right and just way, and not just a keyboard uprising.
The vulnerable suffer yet again, not only children and parents but decision makers too. There are social workers through to Judges and all in between who will serve for the greater good. They will go the extra mile, show compassion, and are passionate in what they do.
Increasingly it is like covering the wound of a severed arm with a plaster.
“Society without access to law does not do justice to society”