A study has found H&F Council is improving the lives of children in care by speeding up legal decisions over their future.
The University of East Anglia investigated what happened to children two years after their final hearing.
It found work by Hammersmith & Fulham Council to cut the average duration of care proceedings not only reduced waiting times, it also meant more children ended up in stable placements.
“We’re determined to give all children the best possible start in life,” said Cllr Sue Fennimore, H&F Cabinet Member for Social Inclusion.
“Being involved in care proceedings can be traumatic enough for children and their families without cases dragging on longer than they should.
“Our innovative approach has shown we can reduce this uncertainty without affecting the stability of children’s placements.”
The study was run by the university’s Centre for Research on Children and Families. It followed up their earlier evaluation of a pilot project designed to reduce the duration of care proceedings in H&F.
This ran from April 2012 to March 2013 and reduced the average time from court application to final hearing, from 49 weeks in the pre-pilot year (2011-12) to 27 weeks. It also resulted in a speeding up of the pre-court proceedings stage.
The new study looked at whether children in the pilot year ended up in more or less stable placements than those whose proceedings took, on average, almost twice as long. And whether there were increased or reduced delays between final hearings and permanent placements.
The researchers found that reducing the length of care proceedings did not mean more children were left waiting for a permanent placement at the end.
For those who did need to move to a permanent placement afterwards, the focus on shorter care proceedings saw the wait from final hearing to placement fall from 30 weeks to 14.
‘Serious problem indicators' – for example breakdowns in permanent placements – declined for children from the pilot group compared to the pre-pilot group. This suggests quicker decision-making processes do not lead to less stable placements.
Another key finding was shorter care proceedings did not result in more children living away from their families. The most common type of final placement for children in both groups was with parents, followed by placements with a relatives or friends, and there was an increase in family and kinship placements in the pilot year.
The study involved all children subject to care proceedings in H&F during the pilot year and the year before.