Cafcass ‘dispensing’ with most experienced guardians, warns Nagalro

Warning of sharp decline in Cafcass' use of self-employed guardians as survey reveals nearly a third are allocated no work

Cafcass to give IROs the "requisite skills" Photo: REX

Most self-employed family court guardians are no longer being allocated cases by Cafcass, according to Nagalro, which is warning only a handful will hold cases within six months.

The guardians body surveyed 96 of its members and found 16 hold 51% of the cases allocated to the self-employed workforce, which it says includes some of the most experienced and respected guardians.

Nearly a third (30%) of the self-employed members had not been allocated any cases, while over half had four cases or less. Only 23% had eight cases or more, and most said they were no longer being allocated new cases.

‘Negative and confusing messages’

Fourteen had ceased working with Cafcass, with five citing the family courts body’s ‘oppressive management style’ and three saying they had had no local work offered to them for a long time.

Of the 74 who would consider further work from Cafcass, 62% complained the family courts body had told them nothing about their future usage, or had given them ‘negative or confusing’ messages.

“At a time of unprecedented increases in public law cases, it is concerning that Cafcass has chosen to largely dispense with its self-employed workforce,” said Ann Haigh, chair of Nagalro.

“Our employed members report very heavy workloads, which too often leave them unable to provide the level of service they see as necessary.”

Declining use of self-employed guardians

Community Care understands that when Cafcass was created in 2001 there were over 750 self-employed guardians in the service, compared with 152 on Cafcass’ books today.

In a statement issued today Nagalro said children benefit from the use of self-employed guardians, which allows experienced guardians to work flexibly.

“At the very point when the family justice system wants to encourage better use of skilled practitioners in family cases and reduce the use of expert witnesses, it makes little sense to dispense with the most experienced children’s guardians,” it read.

Cafcass counters Nagalro’s claims

Bruce Clark, Cafcass’ director of policy, said the organisation continues to have a mixed economy of provision, pointing out 30% of public law cases in London are held by self-employed contractors.

“The proportion of work done in public law, which Nagalro’s survey revealed is the area SECs prefer, is reducing, as care cases become briefer and as private law applications rise,” Clark said.

“At the moment, we have around 10,000 open care cases, while we have 22,000 open private law cases. Most SECs are not willing to work in the type of work in which we are seeing the highest demand.”

He also disputed claims that Cafcass’ declining use of SECs has had a negative impact on practitioners. “A diminishing proportion of Cafcass practitioners (fewer than 25% in each of the past four months) appear in our ‘high red’ and ‘high amber’ workload weighting bands,” he said.

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