Cafcass fails to improve services for children, MPs told

The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service is
failing to improve services for children, families and the courts
in a number of areas, a committee of MPs were told,
writes Derren Hayes.

In the first day’s hearing into the inquiry by the Committee of
the Lord Chancellor’s Department into the work of Cafcass, four
senior judges said in their submission to MPs that the service had
failed to meet a number of its key objectives in its first two

They were particularly concerned about the delays it was
experiencing in appointing guardians to represent children in care
as a result of the general shortage of guardians.

Judge Nicholas Crichton, of the inner London family proceedings
court, said some of the most vulnerable children were having to
wait months for a guardian to be appointed, with the problem being
particularly bad in London and the north east.

There are currently between 180 and 200 cases in London where a
guardian is yet to be appointed, with some children waiting 18
weeks. Of these, 70 are classified as priority cases, where the
children are particularly young or have been abused or

Care proceedings are being delayed as a result, he said, citing
one case where an interim care order applied for in January was
delayed for 12 weeks “adding immeasurably to the costs of the
proceedings, the care of the children and tying up judicial, court,
guardian and social work resources”.

“(Guardians) used to be available within 24 to 48 hours and
working on the case within a week,” Crichton said.

He said the service offered to the family courts had not yet
improved, and in some cases had deteriorated, while Cafcass had
also failed to improve services offered to families in private law
cases and those mediating in contact disputes between parents.

Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, president of the high court
families division, told the committee the dispute over employment
contracts between Cafcass and self employed guardians last year had
got the service off to a “dreadful start”, resulting in many
guardians leaving.

“It will take time for them to be replaced,” she said.

However, she added that a significant rise in the number of
cases coming to court had also contributed to delays.

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