'The family justice system is in crisis, fuelled by an “untenable” workload created by a glut of applications to take vulnerable children into care, the senior judge about to become the next head of the family courts has said.
Sir Andrew McFarlane, who takes over as president of the family division of the high court of England and Wales in July, questioned whether the courts saw too many cases that may not be sufficiently serious enough to warrant the breakup of families.
McFarlane said the courts had to be careful to ensure that the increase in cases that sat relatively low on the spectrum of harm, such as those involving child neglect and poor parenting, properly met the high legal thresholds justifying intervention by the state.
The courts may be in danger of “slipping into the exercise of a broad benevolent discretion” and intervening on behalf of children who were “generally in need” rather than asking whether the conditions for removal from their parents had been strictly met, he said.
“It may properly be said that we have reached a stage where the threshold for obtaining a public law court order is noticeably low, whereas, no doubt as a result of the current financial climate, the threshold for a family being able to access specialist support services in the community is conversely, very high,” he said.
McFarlane’s comments came as he helped launch the Care Crisis review, an independent study of the child welfare and family justice system in England and Wales carried out by a group of senior lawyers, social workers, charities and academics.'
Read more: Legal system of child protection is in crisis, says senior judge
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