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Children in Care: Family Courts

Volume 747: debated on Tuesday 26 March 2024

8. What assessment he has made of the impact of delays in the family courts on children who have been taken into care. (902203)

Delays in decision making during care proceedings can have a significant impact on children, and we recognise that there is more to do to address that challenge. That is why last year the Government published their response to the independent review of children’s social care, setting out a programme of action to achieve better outcomes. The Department for Education is investing an extra £10 million on new initiatives to address the longest delays and meet the statutory requirement to resolve proceedings within 26 weeks.

Data from Cafcass shows that children who have been removed from their parents by the state have to wait an average of 46 weeks to get a final decision on where they will live. That is heartbreaking. What assessment has the Minister made of the impact of extended family proceedings on the mental health of the children involved and their ability to access support and child and adolescent mental health services?

The hon. Lady raises a very serious point. The impact on the child and the wider family is appreciated. We have invested in capacity, with more money for Cafcass, judges and recorders, and more sitting days to ensure that we increase capacity so that hearings can be heard effectively. We are also focusing on the public law outline, which sets a maximum number of hearings and the time limits, to ensure that proceedings are heard on time. If the hon. Lady wishes to raise any specific cases, I will be happy to meet her to get to the bottom of any specific problems.

Despite the response given to my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi), the Government are still a long way from solving the crisis in the family courts. We have heard of the 46-week average, but in 13 of the 42 designated family judge areas in England and Wales, the wait is double the statutory target of 26 weeks. Then, there are the 80,000 private family law cases that can take 45 weeks to be resolved, and the number of new cases is increasing faster than disposals. Do the Government have any concern or compassion for some of the most vulnerable children in the country who are being let down? I invite the Minister to try again and assure the House that the crisis will not get even worse.

If there is a lever that I have not pulled, I invite the shadow Minister to let me know what it is, and I will address it. This Government are spending more money on attracting more judges and recorders, maximising sitting days and investing in the public law outline and, on the flip side of public family law, on private family law as well as mediation. We are investing an extra £55 million, as announced in the Budget, to address productivity and the backlogs. Every single lever that will increase capacity and productivity is being pulled, but I am more than happy for the hon. Member to share any insight with me, and I am sure that we can work on a better solution.