A senior judge has said it is easier to obtain a care order to take a child away from their family, than for the family to get support.
Sir Andrew McFarlane, the incoming president of the family division, says the family justice system is in crisis.
The number of children in care has doubled in the last 20 years, with care applications continuing to rise.
The Department for Education said it wanted to see every child in a loving, stable home.
Speaking at the launch of the care crisis review – a massive sector-led inquiry into the care system, Sir Andrew said there may be a danger of “benevolent discretion” where courts accept the need to help the child, without questioning whether a care order is justified.
“It may properly be said that we have reached a stage where the threshold for obtaining a public law court order is noticeably low, whereas, no doubt as a result of the current financial climate, the threshold for a family being able to access specialist support services in the community is conversely very high,” he will say.
The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service reported that last month, May 2018, was the third highest monthly total on record, with 1,302 care applications received.
Almost all the cases are for neglect, or poor parenting, judges say, rather than physical or sexual abuse.
The care crisis review found there were complex and multiple reasons for the rise, including cuts to resources.
Contributors were concerned that “a culture of blame, shame and fear has permeated the system”, it said.
This affected both social workers and families. They said professionals had become over-reliant on process and targets.
The inquiry was chaired by Nigel Richardson, who rebuilt the system in Leeds while heading children’s services there, so that it worked more closely with families.
While more children were being taken into care elsewhere across the country, in Leeds the numbers fell.
“You have to see the family – in its widest sense – as a resource,” he told the BBC.
In Leeds, the council involved extended family members and friends in plans to care for children and deal with parental problems.
The inquiry recommends other local authorities adopt a similar approach, and that the government help them fund it, through an additional £2bn for children’s services, plus a special ring-fenced fund to “pump prime” a new approach.
Nigel Richardson said in Leeds it cost £1m to refocus the service – but within 18 months, he claimed, that £4m had been saved.
The Department for Education said it had made improvements to social worker training and development, and that there were already efforts under way to improve children’s social care through the £200m Innovation Programme, which began in 2016.
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