Today, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has published information about the number of children subject to applications to deprive them of their liberty under the inherent jurisdiction of the high court (DoLs applications) in their Family Court Statistics Quarterly release. It shows that 388 children were subject to applications to deprive them of their liberty between July to September 2023.
This marks the first time that data about DoLs applications has been included in national administrative data.
Over the past few years, the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory (Nuffield FJO) – alongside the Children’s Commissioner for England and other organisations – have been calling for information about the number of children subject to these applications to be included in national administrative data. These are some of the most vulnerable children in our society and it is vital that they are counted by the government departments that are responsible for them.
What does this release of data show?
How many applications were made?
There were 388 applications, relating to 388 individual children, for DoL orders in the high court between July and September 2023. This compares to 358 applications (incl. 5 repeats) over the same period last year (according to FJO data). This represents a slight increase – of 30 applications – but suggests the number of children subject to DoL applications is similar to the same period last year (see Figure 1 in the slideshow).
Over the same period (July to September 2023), there were 151 applications for secure accommodation orders to place children in a secure children’s home (see Figure 2). There was approximately 2.5 times the number of DoLs applications, compared to secure accommodation applications.
Who made the applications?
Most applications were made by local authorities (380). 8 applications were made by hospitals or other applicants.
The most applications were made by local authorities in London (20.1%), followed by the South East (18.6%), and the North West (16.5%). This compares to data collected by the FJO, from July 2022 to June 2023, which showed that just over a fifth (21.2%) of all applications were made by local authorities in the North West of England, followed by 16.8% of applications from local authorities in London, and 11.8% from local authorities in the South East. We will continue to monitor any changes in the regional spread of DoLs applications as more data is published.
What do we know about the children involved?
Just under half of children (48.2%) were aged between 13-15 years, a quarter (27.3%) were aged between 16 and 18, and 7.2% were 12 or under (see Figure 3). Data was missing for 17.3% of children. Data previously published by the FJO has shown that the majority of children subject to DoLs orders were 15 and above.
Just over half of all children were female (52.3%), 44.4% were male, and 3.1% of children identified as ‘other’ (see Figure 4).
This data release does not tell us why the DoL application was made, the ethnicity of children subject to applications, or whether a DoL order was ultimately made.
The national deprivation of liberty court pilot
From July 2022 to June 2023 Nuffield FJO was invited to collect and publish data from the national DoL court, during its 12-month pilot phase. Over the course of the year, we monitored the volume of applications, and published reports highlighting the needs and characteristics of children subject to applications, and the legal outcomes of applications. A total of 1,249 children were deprived of their liberty over the 12-month period.
A summary report of our research over the last year can be found here: https://www.nuffieldfjo.org.uk/resource/children-subject-to-deprivation-of-liberty-orders
This was the first time that this national data – covering both England and Wales – was published consistently, and highlighted the extent to which these children are too often being repeatedly failed by the organisations and systems responsible for keeping them safe. The release of the data contributed to the setup of a cross-departmental task and finish group in government, which is specifically looking at how to improve outcomes for children with complex needs.
What is happening now?
Since the pilot came to an end in June 2023, HM Courts and Tribunals Service have taken over responsibility for collecting and publishing this data. It be released quarterly as part of the MoJ Family Court Statistics. This means that children subject to DoLs orders will finally be counted in national data moving forward.
The national DoLs court pilot has become the ‘national DoLs list’. Applications are still made centrally to the Royal Courts of Justice, but more cases will be returned to local courts to be heard by a section 9 judge there, if appropriate. This arrangement is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.
The Nuffield Family Justice Observatory will continue to monitor this data and publish a summary each quarter whilst working behind the scenes to shine a light on the growing number of applications for DoLs orders and what we believe is needed to provide good care for these children.