News | Legal News

21 September 2016

60% rise in child care cases leaves family courts in crisis

A rapid increase in child care cases is leaving the family court service in England and Wales with a "clear and imminent crisis", according to its most senior judge.

Sir James Munby, president of the family division, has issued an emergency statement, saying: "The fact is that we are approaching a crisis for which we are ill-prepared and where there is no clear strategy to manage the crisis."

Family courts are dealing with around 15,000 cases this year, rising from 6,500 in 2009.

The current rate of increase is around 20% every year. If this continues for the next three years, by 2019-20 the figure would have climbed to over 25,000, the High Court judge says.

Family court workers are "at full stretch" and the court's president says he simply will not ask them to work any harder.

Sir Munby said he does not believe there has been a 20% rise in child abuse and neglect, attributing the rise to local authorities becoming more adept at identifying abuse or neglect or lowering the threshold for intervention.

If the system is not to "buckle under the pressure of ever-increasing caseloads", there must be some improvements, including streamlining and speeding up of court procedures, he says.

Sir Munby is advocating more intervention to solve the underlying problems that bring claimants or offenders back to court repeatedly.

Richard Watts, chair of the Local Government Association's children and young people board, said: "A 55% cut in early intervention funding since 2010/11 has made it difficult to deal with problems earlier while continuing to provide essential help and support to children at immediate risk of harm."

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