Government ‘austerity’ cuts contributed to a rise in the number of children in care, says senior judge.Sir Andrew McFarlane, the most senior judge in the family courts, has explained to the BBC that cuts to local authority funding left social workers with limited options to provide care to children in the community.
As a result, they were forced to apply to court to take the children into care. As of March 2024, the number of children in the care system has reached nearly record levels of 84,000.
Sir Andrew MacFarlane also discussed how budget cuts and increased workload has contributed to substantial delay in the family court system. By standard, care cases should typically be completed within 26 weeks but this has been regularly exceeded with the average case taking up to a year. The Justice Gap has previously reported that the length of family court disputes has increased by a third in the past 10 years.
Sir Andrew MacFarlane also discussed issues around transparency within family courts. There have been multiple calls for more openness within family court proceedings. New transparency orders have been rolled out in a pilot scheme across three regions, Cardiff, Carlisle, and Leeds. These orders allow for media reporting in family cases provided they abide by strict laws. Journalists may report what they see and hear in court, but should protect the identities of the families involved by anonymising them.
While there has been criticism of increased reporting in family court proceedings having the potential to compromise privacy, Sir Andrew reassured that the reporting in the pilot scheme had been ‘of a high quality’ and ensured the anonymity of the families involved