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Family lawyers feel the strain as number of care cases skyrocket

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More and more care applications are being made, meaning more and more work for family lawyers

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Public law proceedings in family law cases are on the up, with local authorities trying to take more children away from their parents and into the care system.

The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) reportedly received 1,040 care applications last month, a hike of 16% compared to what they received in January 2015.

This jump hasn’t come as much of a surprise. In recent years, local authorities have been steadily upping their care applications. When looking at annual figures for the financial year (April– March), the number of applications received by Cafcass in 2013-2014 had increased by 5% compared to the previous year. In 2014-2015, this figure hopped up again by 4%.

The reason for this steady increase is unclear. Kevin Gibbs — senior head of service at Cafcass — noting the trend, said this:

The widespread expectation that the number of applications would decline following an initial spike after the Peter Connolly [Baby P] case — or because of the impact of budget reductions in local authorities or some other such potential primary cause — has not proven correct.

What is clearer is that family law has come under increasing strain in recent years. A swathe of devastating civil legal aid reforms, courtesy of everyone’s favourite ex-Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling, has left the sector gasping for air, so this rolling increase in care applications must come as an added strain.

Or that’s one theory anyway. Another is this: it’s legal aid for private law matters that’s taken the biggest hit (that’s divorces, custody battles and the like), whereas there is still funding available for public law disputes, the heading that care proceedings fall under. With other types of work drying up, maybe this increase in care applications has come as a welcome break for scrimping family lawyers, keen to take on as many cases as possible to supplement the dwindling amount of private law work.

According to Cafcass, however, it’s not the legal market driving this increase in care applications — the reason is much more simple than that. Gibbs explained:

More need is being identified and local authorities are taking more chronic situations seriously.

Whatever the reason, the family justice system will no doubt be feeling the repercussions of this rise.