A lot of my time at the moment is spent on the revised Public Law Outline (PLO), in my role as a member of the national Family Justice Board. Throughout this work, I’ve seen that one thing is clear: momentum. The determination to reduce avoidable delay in care proceedings is visible and tangible in every court and in every case. Judges, magistrates, social workers, court staff – all are focused on completing cases within what will soon become a statutory time limit. While this is going to be subject to further parliamentary scrutiny, it is hard to see the principles underpinning a 26 week statutory time limit for new care applications from April 2014 changing, or the momentum building towards this goal stalled.
We are focusing on how we can give the best possible advice about what a child needs at the first case management hearing after 10 or 12 days. Giving everyone involved in the case a little more time at the beginning may mean the work of the court can be better structured and avoid delays further into the case. The main areas we are looking to focus on in our work under the revised PLO are a threshold analysis; case management advice to the court; a parenting capacity review; an early permanence analysis – either a safe reunification, kinship care, permanent fostering, special guardianship or adoption; and a review of the care plan, including the proposed contact framework.
At Cafcass, we will be producing detailed materials for our practitioners to support them in their work and as part of our preparation for the implementation of the revised PLO in October and the commencement of the new legislation, in all likelihood in April 2014. If we get it right, children and young people will benefit. Of course, delay can occur before the care application and in finding a permanent placement, so work on the revised PLO needs to be set in the wider context of reforming the care system – an even tougher challenge.
Cafcass will diligently monitor these developments, so keep an eye on this blog, our website and Twitter feed (@MyCafcass) for updates.