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The number of children referred to the courts under section 31 of the Children Act 1989 and the cost of care proceedings have been the target of several recent policy documents. Alongside a commitment to improving preventative or diversionary approaches, they contain incentives for courts, local authorities and lawyers to find mediated alternatives to local authority care. The main route by which it is hoped this is to be achieved is through involving children's extended families and networks in alternative care arrangements. It is intended that these arrangements will be voluntary wherever possible. The effect of such a change would be to move decision-making for some vulnerable children on the edge of care away from the courts, with their attendant safeguards for children's and parents' rights, into administrative settings managed or commissioned by local authorities. The potential impact of such a change on children and parents and their rights is explored. There is also discussion of some additional safeguards that will be needed if there is to be continuing adequate protection of their rights as well as their safety and welfare.
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