Social workers say their relationship with court guardians is close to breaking point and having a direct impact on their ability to support and protect children.
Wendy Morris, family support social worker at Essex County council and spokeswoman for the College of Social Work, told Community Care of one case that had started in February where the guardian had still not met the family.
“In another case on two occasions we were there in court but the guardian failed to show up. A lot of time it’s difficult to even track down the guardian assigned to a case.”
She said although she was sympathetic to the pressures guardians faced, often this was not reciprocated. Social workers writing on Community Care’s Carespace forum have also raised concerns.
Alison Paddle, spokeswoman for court guardian’s association Nagalro said heavy workloads, stress and poor management were all taking a toll.
“Some areas of the country have not seen this level of work but we have heard of some guardians with a public law caseload of 35. That’s just not manageable.”
However, a Cafcass spokeswoman pointed out the duty system was now only used in a small minority of cases. Latest figures show 12,280 cases were allocated to a guardian, 232 had a duty guardian allocated and two were unallocated in September this year.
Cafcass chief executive Anthony Douglas pointed to a joint social work and guardian parent support scheme in Suffolk and joint working schemes in Coventry and Warwickshire as examples where the relationship with local authority social workers was working well.
“Relationships are far more positive than has been suggested. There are far more cases with good professional joint communication than poor ones.”
He said Cafcass was also piloting a weighting system to make caseloads more manageable.
RP says: “I have noticed a deterioration in the performance and professionalism of guardians in the past couple of years, at times to a level which I never thought was possible.”
Supersonic says: “It is getting worse every week. The way it usually goes is, that they turn up at court (if we are lucky) usually it’s a “duty” guardian and all they have on them is a bare few details about the children. They read our statement, chronology etc. and then ride roughshod with their opinion having never met the children or knowing limited information about the family. It seems their initial decision making is based on other similar cases.”
Jelly_tot04 says: “Drives me mad too that the courts take their (guardian’s) views as gospel when they’ve probably seen the child once! We as social workers are surely the experts, we know the family we know the children and surely we should be respected a bit more than we are.”
What do you think? Join the debate on Cafcass at CareSpace
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