Temporary measures which permitted family courts body Cafcass to allocate cases to teams of duty guardians are to be extended for another year until October 2011.
The move had been expected, but now follows a joint agreement, effective from tomorrow, issued by Anthony Douglas, chief executive of Cafcass and Sir Nicholas Wall, president of the family division at the High Court.
Douglas said: “Through brilliant local negotiations, and sheer hard work by our local staff, we now have viable and sustainable agreements with judges and courts all over the country about the priority work we need to focus on to assist children, families and courts in the best way we can, within the resources we have.”
Douglas said the feedback Cafcass has received on the duty system from local judges had been, “without exception, positive”. “We can build on this and strengthen our joint approach still further over the next year,” he said.
National figures show 11,944 care cases are currently allocated, while only 151 are unallocated. Cafcass has credited the duty system – first issued as interim guidance by former head of the family division Sir Mark Potter – with helping them to allocate more cases.
In London, just 236 cases are currently handled by duty teams, rather than one named practitioner.
Martin Harris, the lead head of service for Cafcass London, said: “I am hopeful that despite the high numbers of cases we’re continuing to receive, all children in public law proceedings will have appointed guardians by the end of the financial year.”
Ana Popovici, head of Cafcass’s service in Birmingham – where all cases are currently allocated – said Cafcass staff and local judges were working together in partnership and have, “put in place clear agreements”.
“We now have a situation where the number of care cases entering the system closely mirrors those that are being closed. This has been crucial in bringing stability to our workload and in helping to ensure that backlogs do not build up again,” she said.
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