A large part of family courts’ work is dealing with disputes over children, such as deciding which parent a child should live with (private law) or whether a child should be taken into care for their protection (public law). In 2023, more than 130,000 children were involved in the family court system.

The family court system requires input from a range of bodies including:

• His Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS), an executive agency of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ)
• the Children’s and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS), which is responsible for representing and promoting the best interests and needs of a child in the process
• the Department for Education (DfE), which holds some responsibility for care proceedings

In recent years, the time taken to resolve both private and public law cases has increased. As at March 2024, children and families wait almost a year on average for decisions around a child’s care (38 weeks in public law and 42 weeks in private law). For public law cases this is 12 weeks above the government’s target of 26 weeks.


This study will examine whether the MoJ and other bodies involved in the family court system in England and Wales are managing the service efficiently and effectively to improve outcomes for children. It will look at the extent to which MoJ and others: 

  • understand demand and capacity within the family court system across England and Wales
  • have adopted a whole system approach to improve family courts performance
  • understand and account for the needs of different groups within the family courts system

NAO Team

Director: Jenny George
Audit Manager: Kemi Duroshola