Children’s guardians claim fixed fees will impair service

Children’s guardians are seeking a judicial review of Cafcass –
the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service – over
its decision to pay guardians fixed fees rather than hourly

The National Association of Guardians Ad Litem – Nagalro – has
lodged an application at the high court following a month of
meetings which failed to resolve self-employed guardians’ concerns
over their professional independence and their ability to represent
children effectively in local authority care and adoption

Cafcass has until 25 May to indicate whether it will contest the

If agreement cannot be reached, parts of England and Wales could
face the prospect of having no guardians to appoint in children’s
public law cases.

A Cafcass spokesperson said the organisation has now issued
draft contracts to the guardians, offering them the option of
either working as a self-employed contractor, paid on the basis of
fixed-fees set in bands, or becoming a salaried Cafcass

At a meeting last week, about 70 London guardians criticised the
contracts and agreed a resolution warning that they would not be
prepared to take any public law work because the new contracts
“compromise our ability to carry out our statutory duties to
safeguard and promote the interests of children”.

Guardians claimed the contracts were not child-centred and would
limit their ability to review care plans fully.

The dispute has clouded Cafcass’s operation since the
organisation was launched in April. The children’s guardians –
formerly guardians ad litem funded by local authorities – have been
integrated with the family court welfare services and the
children’s division of the Official Solicitor’s Department.

Since early April, Nagalro and Cafcass have met three times, but
without consideration of the guardians’ alternative proposals,
according to Nagalro. The only self-employed contract likely to be
offered would be an amended, graduated fee contract, Cafcass chief
executive Diane Shepherd told Nagalro representatives in April.

The guardians have until 14 June to consider the contracts and
feedback any comments. At the end of the consultation period, and
subject to the Lord Chancellor’s approval, Cafcass will make a
formal offer to the guardians, giving them time to decide what to

It has promised to review the new system 6, 12 and 24 months
after it comes into effect.

“The negotiations seem to have been a sham,” said a Nagalro
spokesperson. “We’re not going to be able to make a living without
curtailing our [case] enquiries.”

In the meantime, self-employed guardians will continue to work
under the terms and conditions in force before Cafcass took over
the service.

Cafcass has claimed its insistence on banded, fixed-fees is
dictated by Inland Revenue policies, but the Revenue’s public
department office has denied taking a hard line.

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