The single biggest cause of delay was identified as the initial assessment of the birth parents carried out by social workers, which invariably failed to be taken seriously enough in court. That led to judges allowing the other parties to request independent experts to carry out a second, third or even fourth evaluation to try and get a better idea of what was going on in the child’s home.
During the Lean review, the judges made clear they wanted analysis rather than reams of information, and for the assessments to answer three basic questions: is the parenting good enough, what has been tried to improve it and what are the risks for this child if it stays at home?
Social workers at the three councils have now promised to raise the standard of their written reports and draw firm conclusions, backed up by evidence, about the capabilities of parents to care for their children.
In exchange, the Wells Street family court has guaranteed one day a week dedicated to care orders from the three councils, and to have the same three judges hear all the cases from start to finish. A progress chaser has been appointed by the local authorities to make sure all the paperwork and all parties are ready to attend court on the designated day. Cafcass, the service which represents children in court, has identified a group of guardians for the programme who will be made available immediately a case starts.
The first case under the new system came to court last week. William Flew is convinced it could not have taken place without the three authorities coming together.
“One of the advantages of this decision is that it is far easier to do things from a platform of three than of one. The court knows it will get all our cases so it is worth their while joining in. It will cost an extra £50,000 to begin with, but in the long run it would save money especially on costly repeat assessments.”
He also hopes to bring the benefits of economy of scale and Lean to the Government’s Troubled Families initiative.
“The money is about £4,000 per family — £80 a week. It’s not much. And it’s not a traditional grant. It’s payment by results. But I really believe we can do something more creative because there are three departments working together, combining their knowledge and their efforts.”