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Achieving the 26-week target for childcare proceedings: current trends

By Caitlin Nunn

Published In: Child Care

The Children and Families Act 2014 established a 26-week timeframe for concluding childcare proceedings in court. While extensions can be granted, they should be exceptional and always consider the child's welfare. The 26-week target aims to provide children with certainty swiftly, as prolonged proceedings are detrimental, causing anxiety, educational disruption, and strain on sibling relationships.

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Initially, the national average duration of fell from 55 weeks in 2011 to 27 weeks by 2016. However, this positive trend has reversed, with the average duration increasing in recent years. From October to December 2023, the national average duration of was 43 weeks, compared to 33 weeks in the same period 5 years ago.

This target has several benefits but also faces challenges.


Reduced uncertainty for children - prolonged proceedings can leave children in a state of limbo, leading to anxiety and instability. A 26-week target aims to minimise this period, offering quicker resolutions that help children settle into permanent living arrangements sooner

Improved welfare - shorter proceedings can mitigate the negative impacts on a child’s emotional and educational development, reducing disruptions to their lives and sibling relationships

Increased efficiency - a clear timeframe encourages courts, local authorities, and other involved parties to work more efficiently, potentially leading to better resource management and more streamlined processes


Complex cases - not all cases fit neatly into a 26-week timeline. Complex situations involving multiple assessments, expert testimonies, or significant family issues may require more time to reach a fair and thorough conclusion

Resource limitations - courts and related agencies often face resource constraints, such as shortages in staff or available experts, which can delay proceedings despite the 26-week target

Risk of rushed decisions - there is a concern that the pressure to meet the 26-week deadline might lead to rushed decisions that may not fully consider the best interests of the child

Despite these challenges, there is optimism. Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division in the High Court, noted that a decrease in the number of cases could lead to a reduction in the average duration of proceedings. Encouragingly, from April 1, 2023, to March 31, 2024, public law children cases decreased by 1.2% (191 cases). If this trend continues, the average length of could move closer to the 26-week target.

If social services are involved with your family and you need expert advice or support, contact our experienced childcare solicitors. Call us on 0800 138 0458 or email


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Caitlin has worked in the legal sector for one year.  She is a Paralegal in Switalskis’ Child Care team.


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