The credibility of Cafcass’s waiting list figures has been challenged by guardians body Nagalro after a BBC radio programme reported that cases were being removed from waiting lists and allocated in bulk to managers.
Nagalro says children involved in these cases “will not be seen and will not receive the proactive service necessary to protect them”.
BBC Radio Four’s File on 4 reported that cases in areas with long delays or facing Ofsted inspections were being allocated in bulk to managers and practitioners who did not have enough time to work on them. Experts said Cafcass was operating a “minimum service” which was “betraying” vulnerable children.
Nagalro chair Ann Haigh said: “It is particularly worrying if we cannot trust the figures Cafcass produces about how many children are waiting for a service.”
However, Cafcass chief executive Anthony Douglas hit back and said he was “disappointed” that Nagalro had chosen to “recyle inaccurate claims regarding the veracity of Cafcass statistics”.
He said: “Our statistics are drawn from our case management system, which has been in operation since 2005, and are audited by the National Audit Office via our annual report. That our care figures have the status of official statistics is a matter of public record and we strongly dispute claims that our figures are inaccurate.
“Our focus at this time of increased pressure for us all in the family justice system is to work with our partners to find innovative and safe solutions to the challenges that we must together face. We will not improve outcomes for children by attacking each other and we would urge Nagalro to work with us collaboratively in responding to the unprecedented challenges facing us all.”
Haigh said she felt it was time to look at different models of providing a service for vulnerable children and the courts. “Nagalro is keen to make a positive contribution to future plans and we look forward to discussing the issues with the Family Justice Review Panel,” Haigh added.
Earlier this month, Sir Mark Potter, president of the Family Division of the High Court, wrote to organisations, including Cafcass and Nagalro, to inform them that temporary measures to manage the rise in care order referrals were likely to be extended for a further six months.
The unpopular measures, issued in July 2009, permitted Cafcass to allocate cases to teams of duty guardians, rather than to one named practitioner. Potter said at the time that the changes would “not be in the form of a long-term practice direction”.
Speaking to the BBC, Anthony Douglas admitted that the family courts body was under severe strain. He said that the emergency measures in the interim guidance would be needed for the next 12 months “at least”.