New court advisory service faces guardians revolt

The government’s new children and families court advisory and
support service is threatened by a revolt of independent children’s
guardians when it comes into operation in April.

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
from April.

CAFCASS, 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 the guardians’ representative

At NAGALRO’s recent annual conference, 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 believe the proposals strike at the fundamental
principles on which its service is established.

Susan Bindman, NAGALRO chairperson, 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 ADSS 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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