This paper draws on an evaluation of a pilot project in three London boroughs (the ‘Tri-borough’ authorities) which had the aim of reducing the length of care proceedings to 26 weeks, in advance of nationwide moves in the same direction. Rather than looking at this as yet another battleground between professional autonomy and bureaucratic rigidity, the authors focus on the psychological aspects both of court delay itself and of setting time limits, considering the impact of each on the children, parents and professionals involved. The challenge is to balance the pressures of time and the need for thoroughness, being mindful of the uncertainty and anxiety that pervade care proceedings. The pilot succeeded in greatly reducing the average length of care proceedings. Professionals involved in the project, including those whose job was to represent the interests of parents and children, seemed satisfied that this had not been achieved at the expense of thoroughness, and indeed that shorter proceedings might help to reduce the overall level of distress and anxiety that children and parents endure. On the other hand, the new approach adds to the pressures on the professionals themselves. If the changes are to be sustained, the anxiety involved in making these life-changing decisions about children must be recognised, and adequate support offered to those who have to make them.
- care proceedings, court delay, institutional defences, professional judgement