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Care proceedings form a large proportion of the public law cases that come before the courts. Local authorities can apply to the courts for a child to be taken into care where the child is at significant risk of harm. The courts must consider all the evidence on this, including evidence put by the guardian whose role is to represent the views and interests of the child. Parents have the right to put forward their case and the right to legal representation. In making their decisions the courts must be satisfied that taking the child into care will better for the child than not doing so. There is also a general principle that cases should be progressed without undue delay.
Wherever possible local authorities endeavour to keep children with their families, but where - for children’s safety or welfare - they are considering bringing care proceedings, they will invite the parents to a discussion where the parents can put their case. It is very important that parents take this opportunity, and they are entitled to legal representation to help them put their case. Community Legal Advice (CLA) offers free, confidential and independent legal advice including advice on eligibility for public funding. More information about the CLA is available by calling 0845 345 4 345 and by visiting the CLA website.
Applications to the courts for care and supervision orders have increased significantly over recent years and the upward trend is continuing. Between April and December 2011, there were 7487 new applications. This figure is 10.5 per cent higher when compared to the same period in 2010.
Partly as a result of the increases, the average time it takes for care cases to be completed has risen significantly and now stands at 55 weeks.
Excessive delays in cases are not in children’s interests. The Government has taken a series of actions to help address the problem, and the issue has recently been considered as part of the Family Justice Review. The Government has responded to the panel’s report and indicated its intention to take forward the majority of the recommendations to help drive culture change, reduce the time it takes cases to progress through the courts, and simplify the family justice system.
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