Guardians’ chief says conciliation plans may fail if not given resources

The chief executive of the Children and Family Court Advisory and
Support Service has admitted resources will be stretched by new
duties to promote conciliation in custody cases.

Anthony Douglas’s admission follows claims by children’s minister
Margaret Hodge last week that Cafcass may not be able to cope with
its new responsibilities, despite them being a “political
imperative” .

Douglas said it was a “big question” whether Cafcass had the
resources to deliver the government’s proposals for conciliation
services, due to be in place across the country by March

He said the organisation already faced a number of pressures
including an explosion in private law cases involving particularly
vulnerable children, the need to double spending on training, and
staff shortages in London, other cities and the Home

And, while he accepted that resources could be shifted from
report-writing to conciliation, he said this depended on judges
commissioning less comprehensive reports from Cafcass.

However, he added: “We believe totally in the principles and want
to deliver the early intervention model.”
Douglas said it would cost Cafcass £3m to implement the
government’s family justice proposals, which will be included in a
draft bill during the current parliamentary session.

Cafcass has only been given a budget increase for 2005-6 in line
with inflation, but Douglas said it may have to call for increased
resources for 2006-7. He said that, in the past few months, there
had been a doubling in private law cases under section 9.5 of the
Family Proceedings Rules 1991, where children are allocated
guardians because of their particular vulnerability.

“These take up to three times as much time as traditional private
law cases… and have diverted resources from other areas,” he
Douglas added that the organisation was taking action to tackle
claims of increased staff harassment, raised by family court union
Napo and guardians’ representative body Nagalro. He cited an
increase in “insidious” hostility against staff from people who
thought Cafcass was biased against them, including fathers’ rights

Cafcass has written to the Royal Mail highlighting the importance
of practitioners’ addresses remaining confidential and pledged to
take further steps to protect staff over the next few weeks.

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