The welfare service to children in the legal system has
deteriorated 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.
Experts in child welfare painted a depressing picture of a service
in crisis this week in evidence to the inquiry into the work of
Cafcass by the Committee on the Lord Chancellor’s Department.
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 become so acute that public
law cases were taking 91 weeks on average 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, nationally, there were 600 cases
awaiting the appointment of a guardian, representing about 1,200
children, figures she described as “profoundly concerning”.
Vicky Leach, an adviser to 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 could manage, resulting in them 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 issue should be an absolute,” she said.
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 who can work in
private and public law cases – were being poorly trained in some
Timms said she was concerned that this was evidence of a dumbing
“We mustn’t confluence this into a three-day crash course that’s
going to equip you to do both,” she said.
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, the experts predicted. This would have major
implications for resources.