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Addressing the ‘care cases’ crisis: a sector-led review

Researchers: Cathy Ashley

Project overview

This sector-led review will draw on the knowledge and expertise of stakeholders across the child protection sector to identify what service responses can make a difference to children and families and may help to safely avert the need for care proceedings. 

The review is a response to the growing number of children who are looked after in the care system, which is now at the highest level since 1985. In September 2016 in his View from the President’s Chambers, Sir James Munby, President of the High Court of the Family Division for England and Wales drew attention to the ‘seemingly relentless rise in the number of new care cases.‘ He stated ‘We are facing a crisis and, truth be told, we have no very clear strategy for meeting the crisis.  What is to be done?’

In response to this, the Nuffield Foundation organised a conference in February 2017 (in collaboration with Cafcass) to discuss the crisis and ways to address it. In parallel, the charity Family Rights Group instigated discussions with Sir James Munby, the Nuffield Foundation, Cafcass, Association of Directors of Children’s Services, the Children’s Commissioner and the Local Government Association. Together, these organisations committed to assisting Family Rights Group to establish and service a sector-led review. The Nuffield Foundation provided a small grant of ‘5,000 to establish the scope, timetable and funding requirements for the review.

We are now funding the full review, to be facilitated by Family Rights Group and chaired by Nigel Richardson, recently retired Director of Children’s Services.

The purpose of the review is to:

  • Identify specific changes to local authority and court systems and national and local policies and practices that will help safely stem the increase in the number of care cases coming before the family courts and the number of children in the care system.
  • Do so in a way that retains focus on achieving the best outcomes for children and families and takes account of the current national economic, financial, legal and policy context that impacts on families and on local authority and court practice.

The strands of activity include:

  • Collating evidence on the drivers for the increase in care proceedings.
  • Scrutinising research findings about the policies and practices that may safely lead to reductions in care applications and children coming into or remaining in care.
  • Calling for information and emerging evidence about effective approaches (used by local authorities, courts and voluntary organisations) to engaging positively with families at an early stage and enhancing the chances of resolving family difficulties.
  • Consulting with children, young people, parents and kinship carers.
  • Consulting with sector leaders and legal and social work practitioners in England and Wales, to explore and prioritise actions for change.
  • Reporting, with recommendations, on ways of reducing demands on the family justice and child welfare systems and improving outcomes for children and families.

Latest on this project



  • Cathy Ashley
    Family Rights Group

  • Director, Justice
    Nuffield Foundation

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We aim to improve people’s lives by funding research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare and Justice. We also fund student programmes that give young people skills and confidence in science and research.

We are an open, collaborative and engaged funder that offers more than money. Through connecting the individual projects we fund, we strengthen their collective impact and give voice to an overarching narrative.