Posted on 08/07/2011
An academic at Royal Holloway, University of London has branded recommendations for the welfare of children involved in care proceedings as a “serious erosion of children’s rights” following a government report.
Speaking at a conference to discuss an interim report by David Norgrove, who is chairing the Government’s wide reaching review of the family justice system, Anna Gupta, Head of the Department of Health and Social Care at Royal Holloway, warned that the children’s best interests are not being represented.
The conference, Back to the Future: The Implications of the Family Justice Review for Children in Care Proceedings, brought together academics, social workers and lawyers for children. The event, organised by Royal Holloway, was set up to enable leading figures to analyse the recommendations in the interim report, which offers an indication of what the final review will recommend.
Ms Gupta said: “Despite Norgrove’s report asserting that the child’s voice must be central, I argue that his interim recommendations represent a serious erosion of the child’s right to representation about fundamental human rights issues.”
She voiced concern at the report’s recommendations to remove the scrutiny of local authority’s care plans from the court arena and pointed out that a child’s interests and views in crucial decisions, including whether they live with a brother or sister, will not be independently represented.
Ms Gupta warned: “This recommendation is particularly surprising in view of the court’s legal obligation to satisfy itself that a care plan is in the child’s best interests before entrusting that child’s future care to the local authority, and it not clear how this would work. The decisions made in care proceedings are some of the most drastic and draconian actions that the state can make (i.e. the permanent removal of a child from their birth families), and far from clear cut. Often it is a balance of the least detrimental option available.”
She also raised concerns at the six-month deadline for care proceedings to be resolved claiming that although proceedings often take too long, the recommendations don’t address the reasons for the delays, namely the serious understaffing of social services departments; the shortage of guardians; legal aid underfunding; shortage of court time; shortage of specialist judges and shortage of experts.
“A six month time limit for all but exceptional cases will not resolve the fundamental reasons for delay,” she said.
The Family Justice Review is due to be published this autumn.