The government is likely to accept proposals that Cafcass should come under the control of the Ministry of Justice as part of a family justice service.
Children’s minister Tim Loughton today said government departments had already met to discuss the change, in response to a recommendation in the interim report from the Family Justice Review.
“We can all see a degree of logic in that direction of travel,” he told the House of Commons’ justice select committee. “However, there is still a lot of work to be done on the transitional details. Cafcass is a very different animal from the rest of the family courts service.”
The College of Social Work has criticised the recommendation, warning that the training and continuing professional development of social workers employed by Cafcass may suffer if it came under MoJ control.
Loughton defended the family courts advisory body against calls for it to be abolished. He said its work would still need to be done and Cafcass was grappling with problems in the court system as well as those caused by a 35% increase in care applications since the Baby P case.
“To put all the problems of the family justice system on Cafcass is unfair,” he said. “It’s a mixed picture. Some Cafcass offices are running very efficiently and others are not. I think there is a poor dissemination of good practice and that is a management issue. We’ve all been very furstrated at how long it is taking those poor areas to improve.”
He agreed he was concerned at the loss of so many experienced independent guardians from Cafcass but was reticent when asked whether there should be more competition introduced into the guardian role.
“That’s an interesting question: should there be competition in safeguarding and the care system? That’s probably an argument for another day. What will make Cafcass improve is the greater transparency we are now putting in place and the knowledge that if we don’t see substantial signs of improvement there will be serious questions to answer.”
He said he feared the current high rate of referrals would continue and the number of applications to take children into care that had been upheld in the courts suggested that probably too few children were going into care before the Baby P case.
Justice minister Jonathan Djangoly also admitted the government and the family justice review were considering how to make judges more accountable for the delays and subsequent costs of cases.
“There is clearly a balance to be struck between greater case management and ensuring the independence of the judiciary, but we do want to see better management systems in place,” he said.
“This is an issue the judiciary is trying to address. Only two weeks ago the presidential guidance on hearings issued directions to ensure the continuity of judges on cases. So we need to see how that feeds into the review.”
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