The welfare service to children in the legal system has
deteriorated into crisis since responsibility for representing
their interests passed to the Children and Family Court Advisory
and Support Service, an influential group of MPs has been told,
writes Derren Hayes.
Experts in child welfare painted a depressing picture of a
service in crisis, during the third day of evidence to the
committee on the Lord Chancellor’s department inquiry into
the work of Cafcass.
Peter Watson-Lee, chairperson of the family law committee of the
Law Society, said delays in the legal system, caused in part by a
lack of court appointed guardians, had got so bad that the average
public law case was taking 91 weeks to complete.
Judith Timms, of the National Youth Advocacy Service, said the
situation in public law cases was worse now than before Cafcass was
formed two years ago.
She said that, nationally, there were 600 cases awaiting the
appointment of a guardian, representing around 1,200 children,
figures she described as “profoundly concerning”.
Vicky Leach, an adviser to the children’s charity the NCH,
said: “The service was infinitely better before the different
parts were joined because each part knew what they were supposed to
be doing and generally got on with it.”
Timms added that guardians were having to take on many more
cases than they were able to manage, resulting in guardians being
appointed to children, but then not being able to work on their
cases for weeks at a time.
“We are spreading the butter too thinly at the moment. The
child protection should be an absolute,” she added.
Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of the National
Association of Probation Officers, said Cafcass had become too
management heavy, while practitioners were “consistently
working to their limits” in private law cases.
He added that family court advisers – professionals able to work
across both private and public law cases – were being poorly
trained in some cases.
A large rise in the use of litigation to settle custody battles
would also result in an increase in the number of private law cases
requiring guardians, with major resource implications, the experts