Calderdale family and youth court hearings hit delays

Children and families in eight care proceeding cases in a three-month spell earlier this year saw their court hearings delayed amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Monday, 20th December 2021, 3:11 pm
Updated Tuesday, 21st December 2021, 8:58 am
Delays to court hearings

In quarter two of this year, from July to September, the average time taken in the eight cases was 35.1 weeks, but this is better better than the national performance up to May 2021.

That is longer than the target 28 weeks although inside 36 weeks – judges can in any event ask for an eight week extension, a council’s scrutiny board heard – with one of the eight taking longer.

Service manager David Chambers told Calderdale Council’s Children and Young People’s Services Scrutiny Board that nationally care proceedings were taking longer, time taken steadily increasing through the pandemic, as a year’s statistics showed – from 35.6 weeks in the quarter to May 2020 to 43.4 weeks in the quarter year to May 2021.

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He outlined support that is available to families, including the council’s own care proceedings case manager, who analyses any case taking longer than the 26-week target within a quarterly report.

A key partner within court proceedings – the Children And Family Court Advice and Support Service – has officers who represent the voice of the child within court proceedings and during the pandemic quarterly meetings between the service and council have continued remotely, said Mr Chambers.

Internally there are fortnightly meetings between the three children’s service managers, the manager of the council’s child care legal team, and the care proceedings case manager, he said.

During the pandemic court buildings had to close down but care proceedings had to continue with courts accepting the position raised by parents’ legal representatives that it was unfair, unjust and against human rights to hold a virtual court hearing when really important decisions were to be made, for example where local authorities were seeking to remove children from their parents’ care.

Accordingly, courts introduced a hybrid arrangement whereby parents and their legal representatives could attend court physically with the judge with other parties attending by remote link, said Mr Chambers.

This also saved time for social work teams allowing them to spend more time working with children and their families in Calderdale, the board heard.

Since the courts closed at Halifax hearings have been held at Leeds.

The care proceedings case manager, Lesley Warnes, said the most important factor was the welfare of the children – this was the major concern.

Coun Sarah Courtney (Lab, Calder) said children, older ones in particularly as they would be more aware of delays, would be affected.

“Can you assure us how the impact on children and young people is kept to a minimum where there are delays?” she said.

Officers said the safety of the child was paramount, their needs were assessed and the child’s voice was listened to.

Board Chair Coun Colin Raistrick (Ind, Hipperholme amd Lightcliffe) said it seemed hybrid hearings were the future

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