Vulnerable children are being kept in limbo by unnecessary delays in care proceedings, the UK's largest children's charity has said after figures revealed decisions to put youngsters in care can take more than a year.
Last year children waited an average of more than 56 weeks before a county court decided to take them into care or a supervision order was made.
The family proceedings courts took an average of more than 44 weeks.
The total number of unresolved cases increased from 8,677 at the end of 2008 to 12,994 at the end of 2009.
Barnardo's said delays meant some children were forced to stay in abusive homes and called for a 30-week upper limit for proceedings.
Chief executive Martin Narey said: "An insecurity has spread through the family courts with additional, sequential expert assessments being routinely ordered.
"This paired with the evident lack of credence given to social workers, is causing unnecessary delay. The courts need urgently to reflect on the damage these delays are having on extremely vulnerable children.
"A year of a child's life is an inordinate amount of time for them to be trapped in desperate limbo, unclear of their future and very possibly at risk. During this time, these children might remain at home with neglectful or abusive birth families or be living in emergency foster care, expected to settle with families they may subsequently have to leave.
"At a time when stable relationships and secure attachments are vital for a child, they are instead engulfed in a period of uncertainty and confusion."
The figures, for England and Wales, were revealed in written answers to parliamentary questions from Liberal Democrat MP Annette Brooke. Barnardo's said the data also revealed a "postcode lottery" for children awaiting care.