The courts and child protection social work in England: tail wags dog?

Jonathan Dickens, Judith Masson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
16 Downloads (Pure)


In England, the problem of excessive delay in court proceedings about children is long-standing, and there have been numerous initiatives over the years to tackle it. Under the Children and Families Act 2014 there is now a statutory limit of 26 weeks for care proceedings (with provision for longer where justified). If this is to be achieved, the quality of the work that local authorities undertake with children and families before proceedings are started will be more important than ever, and the courts will have to take due account of it. This paper draws on research into the formal ‘pre-proceedings process’ in England and Wales, to assess the prospects for the new approach. The research was undertaken in 2010-12, and involved a file survey, observation of pre-proceedings meetings, interviews with key participants (including social workers, lawyers and parents) and a group discussion with judges. The paper considers the implications of the new approach for relationships between the courts and local authorities, in particular how pre-proceedings work should be conducted. The danger is that pre-court practice may become less about family support, more about evidence and timescales, less about prevention of proceedings and more about preparation for court.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)355-371
Number of pages17
JournalBritish Journal of Social Work
Issue number2
Early online date9 Dec 2014
Publication statusPublished - 10 Mar 2016


  • Care proceedings
  • social work and law
  • children and families
  • child safeguarding
  • prevention

Cite this