A financial crisis has left the Children and Family Court
Advisory and Support Service facing industrial action, an exodus of
self-employed guardians and more case delays, writes
Chief executive Anthony Douglas has ordered a string of
emergency measures – including a freeze on non-essential
recruitment and delays to an IT upgrade – and has asked the
government for £2 million to balance the books.
In a letter last month to junior children’s minister Maria
Eagle, leaked to Community Care, Douglas said the problem
stemmed from increased demand in London and the North East.
However, he said the government’s failure to increase
Cafcass’s grant in line with inflation this year had meant
2005-6 “was always going to be a difficult year”.
But probation union Napo, which represents family court staff,
called for the National Audit Office to investigate Cafcass’s
finances to determine whether the problem was under-funding or
Without the money, Cafcass may not be able to offer staff a rise
sufficient to prevent strikes and stop self-employed practitioners
leaving the service. Pay negotiations are yet to begin because of
the financial situation.
Speaking to Community Care this week, Douglas said backlogs, a
historic problem he has fought successfully to reduce, would
“start to rise again” on current projections.
The £2 million he is asking for reflects grant money not
used in 2004-5, but Eagle has so far failed to respond to his
A Department for Education and Skills spokesperson refused to
comment on the request, but added: “The budget of £107
million represents a 12.6% increase from 2003-04 to
Cafcass is meeting Napo and Unison on Monday to discuss the
situation. Napo’s assistant general secretary, Harry
Fletcher, said: “If this matter is not resolved within the
next few weeks then a ballot for industrial action seems
Alison Paddle, chair of Nagalro, the professional association
representing guardians, said: “Self-employed practitioners
will not take industrial action; they will take their skills and
their expertise elsewhere to the detriment of the
Douglas said a poor pay settlement would not support “my
long-term aspiration to serve children well”, and said he
hoped to give staff a cost-of-living increase.