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Cafcass supports changing named guardian law

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Cafcass has come out in support of government moves to change the law around the role of named guardians to represent children in court.

The move follows yesterday’s admission from the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) that ministers are considering the changes, which sources say are currently being drafted for inclusion in the forthcoming Schools and Safeguarding Children Bill.

Cafcass chief executive Anthony Douglas told Community Care that although having a named guardian would always be the preferred choice “sometimes, in teams with high volumes of new cases, duty guardians can play a vital positive role in the early stages of cases”.

“Cafcass has a cash-limited budget, which must be unambiguously spent on children and young people whose needs are accorded the highest priority. Any steps or measures which strengthen the framework for making these difficult daily choices are to be welcomed,” he said.

A spokesperson from the DCSF said: “We are clear that there is a need to improve Cafcass’ accountability structures to allow Cafcass to manage its staff effectively if we are to guarantee that every child will get a high-quality service from their children’s guardian.

“Ministers are currently considering the best way to achieve this, and are speaking to stakeholders to help inform this decision.”

An alliance of 20 organisations including the Association of Lawyers for Children, NAGALRO, the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), the Children’s Commissioner and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health have teamed together to try and resist the changes to section 41 of the Children Act 1989.

Co-chair of the Association of Lawyers for Children Caroline Little said she understood the pressures Cafcass was under with the unprecedented levels of referrals since the baby Peter case and its fixed budget.

“But what we’re saying is that you don’t change primary legislation in order to deal with an emergency budgetary problem.”

A statement from the alliance said the current system of named guardians ensured continuity of oversight in cases. Children needed this continuity so they could trust that someone was speaking for their interests throughout a court case.

It also pointed out that the president of the Family Division at the High Court is reviewing the current temporary measures to allow duty systems and will report in April 2010.

“It would be premature to amend an important piece of primary legislation for children before the president has had a chance to review the impact of the interim arrangements on the children and proceedings concerned,” the statement said.

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