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A Breaking Dam

March 12, 2010

Lord Laming, in interview published in Family Law Newswatch was asked:- “Since the baby Peter case there has been a huge increase in the number care applications, does he think that perhaps the pendulum has swung the other way and local authorities are now too risk averse?

Laming’s answer:

“No I don’t because I think that there has been an introduction of a different system, the Public Law Outline, for the way in which cases, applications for care, are presented to the court and this is in order to try and speed up the actual element within the court by doing a lot of the preparatory work more effectively before it gets into the court. Whilst that system was being introduced there was a dip in the number of cases that came before the court because the new system was just being bedded in and being introduced. That system is now in place so it was always expected that there would then be an increase in the number of cases that would come before the court. Of course baby Peter will have had an effect, but my own view is that cases are not brought before a court for trivial reasons, there’s no tendency to bring cases of this kind for frivolous or anything other than serious reasons. But if they were brought before the court for anything less than persuasive reasons – good reasons – the court would sort that out. The court is very rigorous in the way it does its work.”

I think Lord Laming has got it right. The introduction of the Public Law Outline (PLO) had the effect of temporarily damming up the flow of cases coming into the courts but that once local authorities had got the new system bedded in the cases started to flow again. The baby Peter case was but one element causing local authorities and other agencies to be more alert and pro-active in detecting and reporting serious child abuse and that the heightened flow of cases coming before the courts now better reflects the extent of abuse in communities than did the previous lower flow.

I think those agencies, especially CAFCASS who, Canute like, hope that higher referral rates are solely due to the baby Peter effect and will soon fall back to the rate they could cope with at the time of the introduction of the PLO are sadly deluded. It seems to me the reporting and detection of serious child neglect and abuse has risen and is likely to rise further, because of greater awareness and because ‘turning a blind eye’ as in the case where Lincolnshire and Sheffield County Councils have had to apologise for ignoring gross abuse for 25 years, is no longer acceptable.

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