Cafcass has been accused of putting safeguarding at risk because of poor management and high paperwork demands, in a survey of children’s guardians.
The survey by Nagalro, the guardians’ professional body, assessed the new duty rota system which was introduced to manage the increase in referrals to Cafcass over the past year.
It found 40% of 300 cases allocated to children’s guardians since January 2009 had to wait more than two months for assignment. Some guardians had up to 14 open cases at a given time while more than 80% of Cafcass-employed guardians and 60% of all guardians felt there had been a “significant increase” in the administrative burden last year.
Some 80% of guardians said they were being instructed to prioritise tasks “other than the work done with and for the child”. One practitioner said they were “writing reports to satisfy Cafcass, not the child or the court”.
The report found that “too great a proportion of the available resource is going into what may be a limited paper exercise of arm’s-length risk assessment that is insufficient to safeguard children’s interests.”
The training and competence of Cafcass management was also critcised, with only four out of 61 respondents (7%) feeling that their manager was supportive. Increased bureaucracy and “bullying” of managers were cited by self-employed guardians as “disincentives” for them taking on work from Cafcass, despite the high number of unallocated cases and rising care order applications.
Nagalro surveyed its members during August and October 2009. The 73 respondents included employed and self-employed guardians who held 469 public law cases in total.
One guardian replied: “I now consider that the guardian service and the child protection system have been destroyed by Cafcass and by the government. I fear for the future of vulnerable children and I no longer wish to be any part of a failing system which is unable and unwilling to afford them the protection which they deserve.”
Recent figures have revealed that care applications could be stabilising at new, higher rates. Cafcass’ latest quarterly figures show a 21% rise in referrals, compared with the same period last year, while the body’s survey of children’s guardians showed that all cases surveyed had been appropriately referred.
A Cafcass spokesperson said: “Continuing high demand is placing pressure on the family justice system as a whole. A number of measures have been taken to ease this pressure and to use the resources we have to best effect.”
Talks are continuing between Cafcass and the Department for Children, Schools and Families about extra resources, Community Care has learned.