We have previously reported and commented upon the numbers of Private Law and Public Law children applications that are made to the Family Court. Private Law cases involve parents and family members seeking to resolve disputes regarding the arrangements for children and Public Law cases involve Local Authorities (Social Services) having significant concerns regarding children’s welfare.
The recent data publicised by Cafcass (the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) indicates that although applications for Public and Private Law proceedings following the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic have decreased, the long-term trend for the last five-year period has been an increase. Cafcass states that the number of children and young people it works with each year has risen from 127,670 children in 2017/18 to 143,469 in 2022/23.
Cafcass describes that the greatest increase has been in the number of Private Law proceedings being issued. The number has reached over 97,000 in Private Law proceedings for 2022/23 compared with just under 83,000 five years ago.
Cafcass estimates that approximately two-thirds of the children it works with each year are involved in Private Law proceedings, whereas about a third are involved in Public Law proceedings. The percentage of children involved in Private Law proceedings has increased by almost 3% in five years.
Cafcass also comments that the number of cases open to Cafcass at any point in time has increased. Where there were 26,497 open children’s cases in March 2018, there were 32,904 open cases by end of March 2023 – this represents an increase of 24%. It is suggested that most of the increase is a result of the pandemic and due to a reduction in final hearings and cases closing as work in the Family Court slowed down during COVID-19. Cafcass goes on to comment about the considerable pressure upon Family Courts and we would certainly agree that children and family proceedings are taking longer to be concluded than before. We are finding that extended timescales need to be considered when entering into Family Court proceedings regarding children as often more urgent cases are heard and less urgent cases are postponed. It is a reality that resources in the Family Court system continue to be stretched.
How we can help
Our Family team is very experienced in dealing with all types of cases concerning children disputes and has accredited specialists and a widely-skilled team across Devon, Cornwall, and Somerset to help with these situations, including offering Legal Aid where available. Legal Aid is automatically available in cases where care/supervision proceedings are brought by a Local Authority if you are a parent or a person with parental responsibility. Legal Aid is not automatically available in Private Law proceedings and indeed the availability of Legal Aid for these has reduced, with there being a requirement for domestic abuse evidence to be necessary save in exceptional circumstances.