A week in family law: justice week, child maintenance and a new surrogacy service

The number of children supported through a child protection plan to keep them safe from harm increased by more than 2,700 over the past year, the biggest annual increase in four years, according to new figures released by the Department for Education. 53,790 children were being supported through a child protection plan on the 31st of March 2018, a 5.31 per cent increase on the previous year, and an 84 per cent increase in the number of children on plans over the past decade. The figures have led to the Local Government Association warning that the increase shows the massive demand that is being placed on councils at a time when resources are being reduced, and highlights the growing number of children and families needing support from children’s services. Chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board Councillor Anntoinette Bramble, commented: “It is absolutely vital that councils are able to support families and help children who are at risk of significant harm, but it is also important that help is available before problems escalate to that point. But this is being put at risk by the huge and increasing financial pressures children’s services are now under, with many councils being pushed to the brink by unprecedented demand.”

This week is Justice Week, a new initiative setup by the Bar Council, The Law Society, and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives. The purpose of the week is to boost the profile of justice and the rule of law, helping to place them at the centre stage of public and political debate. Justice Week comprises a week-long programme of research, public events, and digital content, bringing together media, politicians, industry, the third sector and the general public. To coincide with Justice Week the three professional bodies commissioned a survey into public attitudes to the justice system. The survey found that justice is as important to most people as health and education. It also found that few people have the confidence to run cases without a lawyer, and that people believe the system is tilted in favour of the wealthy. Law Society president Christina Blacklaws said: “Cuts to legal aid spending over the past five years have denied justice to the most vulnerable in society, placed a further burden on the taxpayer and damaged the foundation of our justice system. Since April 2013, hundreds of thousands of people have become ineligible for legal aid as a result of freezes to means tests as well as cuts to the scope of legal aid, including victims of domestic abuse and people under threat of eviction.” Indeed. Let us hope that the government is listening…

Moving on, the latest statistics on the child maintenance arrangements made by separated parents after speaking to the Child Maintenance Options service, which provides parents with information and support regarding child maintenance, have been published by the Department for Work and Pensions (‘DWP’). The statistics show that between February and April this year 48,700 parents contacted CM Options, and that in that period the service helped parents set up 33,400 child maintenance arrangements. Of those 8,300 were ‘family based arrangements’, i.e. arranged between the parents themselves. The statistics also tell us that 85% of parents with a family-based arrangement thought it worked ‘fairly or very well’. A more important statistic would be the percentage of parents with care who were satisfied with a maintenance arrangement handled by the Child Maintenance Service (because the parents were not able to agree the arrangement between themselves), but as far as I can see the DWP have not published that.

And finally, the big news of the week was that Stowe Family Law has launched a specialist domestic and international surrogacy law service across a number of its 17 offices. The Stowe specialist surrogacy team support people with legal advice to ensure they have the information they need to make key decisions and ensure that the necessary documentation is in place, and legal formalities complied with for domestic and international surrogacy arrangements. For a summary of your legal rights if you are using a surrogate see this post by Bethan Cleal, a solicitor in Stowe’s Winchester office.

Have a good weekend.

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