Wales care case delays ‘damage’ children
The time it takes the legal system to permanently remove children from their parents when they are considered “at risk” varies by more than six months in different parts of Wales.
BBC Radio Wales’ Eye on Wales programme said it found in some areas it takes more than double the 26 weeks recommended in a government review.
Children’s Commissioner for Wales Keith Towler said the delays damage children.
The Welsh government said the delays were “unacceptable”.
Figures seen by Radio Wales’ Eye on Wales show that some family courts in Wales conclude proceedings to remove children from families in 21 weeks, while others take up to 60 weeks.
The average duration for courts in Wales in 58 weeks, according to figures from the Ministry of Justice.
Concern over the length of time taken in such cases led to the Family Justice Review, which reported back earlier this year.
Mr Towler, who was on the review panel, said they found a system that was “failing to function” and losing sight of children’s best interests.
“There’s considerable variation in waiting times,” he said.
“What we really need to understand is why that’s the case, and what are the outcomes for those families.
“Why are some of our courts able to work within that six-month deadline comfortably, whilst others aren’t?”
He added: “You’ve got to reduce delay, because delay is damaging to children. They worry about it, they’re scared about their futures, what school they’re going to go to, where they’re going to live, who’s going to look after them… these are huge decisions.”
The time limit recommendation has been accepted by both the Welsh and UK governments with other key proposals to speed up and streamline the family justice system.
Referrals to social services and other childcare agencies have risen sharply since the death of toddler Baby Peter, and other high-profile cases.
In light of growing pressures, social workers, and others have expressed doubt that the proposed six-month time scale is achievable.
A recent survey by the British Association of Social Workers among members in Wales revealed concern about unmanageable workloads, lack of supervision, loss of support staff increasing admin tasks, and other issues.
Nushra Mansuri, professional officer for BASW, said she has not met anyone who felt that the the new time scale was workable in their current situation.
“We hear so much about austerity, and because we have that level of reduced resources, and instability within the system, it’s very difficult to see how the 26-week timeline can work, when we don’t have the resources and enough capacity in the system.”
The Welsh government said it broadly welcomes the review’s recommendations and recognises that current delays in care proceedings are “not in children’s interests”.
Achieving the six-month time limit will be “challenging” and depend on wider reforms.
The Ministry of Justice said it was committed to reducing the time judges spend scrutinising care plans, with more focus instead on “core components” of care applications.
League tables showing court performances for processing care applications will be published from next January.
BBC Eye on Wales is broadcast at 13:05 BST on Sunday on Radio Wales, and is also available on the IPlayer.