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New research can help parents avoid care proceedings

3 April 2013

New research by Professor Judith Masson on care proceedings shows success in scheme to divert cases from court…

Professor Judith Masson of the School of Law and Dr Jonathan Dickens, senior lecturer in social work at UEA, found that the ‘pre-proceedings process’ introduced in 2008 can help parents avoid care proceedings. The pre-proceedings process involves social workers writing to parents, who are at risk of care proceedings and inviting them to a meeting to discuss this. The letter qualifies parents for free legal aid so that they can have legal advice at this meeting. Legal advice, and the discussion with social workers at the meeting, encouraged parents to engage with Children’s Services, to make use of the services offered, and to improve their parenting or agree to their children being looked after by relatives or foster carers. Around a quarter of cases remained out of care proceedings, with two-thirds of parents improving their care, and the other third agreeing to alternative care.

The process was less successful in another of its aims – to enable courts to decide cases more quickly. There was no difference between the length of cases where social workers first followed the pre-proceedings process and those that went straight to court. The time spent on the pre-proceedings process meant that applications to court were delayed. It had been intended that the time spent in pre-proceedings would be balanced by shorter proceedings but this did not happen; courts took little or no account of social workers’ pre-proceedings work.

The research was funded by a grant from the ESRC RES-062-23-2226. The report – Partnership by law? (PDF, 2,614kB)  and a summary (PDF, 246kB) are available.

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