Considering the Ethnicity of children in care and supervision proceedings in England

Posted on: May 22nd, 2023

The Nuffield FJO has issued its ‘Briefing Paper: Ethnicity of children in care and supervision proceedings in England’.

Stacey Phoenix

Our Head of Public Law, Stacey Phoenix has been considering some of the highlights of the report as it is published today.

The aim of this paper is to increase awareness of the inequalities and disparities that exist across ethnic groups in the family justice system and how we can monitor and measure this using data. It also provides the basis for future work as it points to many questions that remain unanswered and under-investigated and we recommend areas for further enquiry.

The findings are drawn from an analysis of the ethnicity of children in care and supervision proceedings in England. The analysis uses population-level data from Cafcass England. Until recently this has not been possible as information on ethnicity was not routinely collected in Cafcass data prior to 2017.

One of the surprising findings of the report was that Black and Asian children are, on average, older upon entering care proceedings for the first time and notwithstanding this that the proceedings for Black and Asian children took longer to conclude than cases involving White children and children from Mixed or multiple ethnic groups’, says Stacey Phoenix. ‘Where the state brings court proceedings to determine the welfare of children, the law provides that unless there are exceptional circumstances the proceedings must be concluded within 26 weeks, some six months. The majority of cases locally remain under this timescale.

Law and practice recognises that delay in making decisions for children is detrimental to their welfare. The Nuffield report highlights that Black and Asian children are more likely to be older than comparable children at the point when the decision is made to commence proceedings to seek determinations about their long-term welfare, the impact of which may then be compounded by delay in reaching those final determinations.

This is of course the national picture and not necessarily reflective of local practices’.

A worrying finding in the report relates to older children and the use of secure accommodation and deprivation of liberty, which is where the state seeks authority of a court to detain a child in a secure welfare setting or seek orders allowing it to provide a level of restriction and supervision of a child over and above that which would ordinarily be given to a child of that age. The Nuffield report finds that ‘A higher proportion of Black and Asian children have a secure accommodation or deprivation of liberty order than White and Mixed or multiple ethnicity children’. There needs to be consideration as to whether this is linked with the older on average age of children at which orders are sought from the court, and if so why. This is particularly important as, in contrast, the report finds for younger black or ethnic minority children it is more likely that a lesser interventionalist order will be made.

The report highlights some much-needed points of further consideration and will shape the way in which statistics and information can be collated in the future to better inform the care planning for Black and Asian children. How delays can be prevented, and earlier outcomes identified. It also highlights the diversity of our communities and the need for this to be properly considered in terms of assessments, placement matches and future care planning for children.


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