Guardians ad litem revolt over new fixed fee system

The government’s new children and families court advisory and
support service, Cafcass, is threatened by a revolt in the ranks of
independent children’s guardians.

The service comes into operation in April yet the guardians ad
litem – independent court-appointed representatives of vulnerable
children in care and adoption cases – have threatened a judicial
review of the decision to impose fixed fees on their work and have
refused to take on any new work after this month.

The non-departmental body set up by the Lord Chancellor’s
Department to amalgamate the family court welfare service with the
guardian service, plans to introduce bands of fixed fees for the
work of the self-employed guardians, previously paid on a
sessional, hourly basis.

Such budget-capping bears little relation to actual cost,
current best practice, and threatens to limit the range and scope
of the guardians’ work, according to their representative body, the
National Association of Guardians Ad Litem and Reporting

At Nagalro’s annual conference last week, guardians unanimously
backed a resolution of no confidence in the new service’s ability
to safeguard vulnerable children after 1 April 2000.

Addressing the conference, Cafcass chairperson Anthony Hewson
made a commitment to simplify the proposals, including an extension
mechanism for payments in especially complex care cases and a
six-month and 12-month independent review of the scheme.

He also proposed a six-week moratorium from 1 April on any new
proposals, subject to the approval of the Inland Revenue – whose
policies he claimed were responsible for the introduction of a
fixed-fee regime.

But Nagalro believes the proposals strike at the fundamental
principles on which its service is established.

Nagalro chairperson Susan Bindman said: “Our reputation for
independence and the ability to provide critical analyses of child
care plans, and the very high standard of investigation and
reporting would be restricted. We would continually have to seek
the authorisation of professional decisions. It is not appropriate
to constrain guardians in this way.”

Previously funded by local authorities through 57 panels
nationwide, guardians have had a sometimes uneasy relationship with
their paymasters. Bindman claimed social services departments would
have difficulties in progressing child care cases under the new

“It would be extremely unfortunate if [guardians] do not take on
the work,” said Association of Directors of Social Services senior
vice-president Mike Leadbetter. “But the ADSS does have concerns
about the lack of consistency and management in [guardian]
practice. Cafcass is the way in which to provide that.”

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