Self-employed children’s guardians will be forced to leave the
service, guardians in London and the south-east warned following
Cafcass’ decision to withdraw its promise of self-employment,
writes Jonathan Pearce.
Instead, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support
Service – officially launched in April – has offered the 750
self-employed guardians the choice of either salaried employment or
leaving the service altogether. They have until 27 July to
The guardians – independent, court-appointed representatives of
children in care and adoption cases, formerly known as guardians ad
litem – are furious at the latest proposals.
A straw poll at an action meeting suggested over half of the 200
guardians in the south of England may not sign the new contract
issued by Cafcass.
“The London service will capsize shortly after 1 August,” one
guardian at the meeting predicted. “In London and the south-east
the rates of pay are such that people will not stay in the service.
In a year’s time, the service will become more demoralised than it
Susan Bindman, chairperson of the National Association of
Guardians Ad Litem and Reporting Officers, added: “I don’t know
whether I’m more appalled at Cafcass not issuing contracts for
self-employment after 18 months of promises or the spin they are
trying to put on a service in crisis. If two-thirds of guardians
don’t sign, how can Cafcass ever ensure that the voice of every
child is heard.”
Cafcass has been in protracted negotiations with the guardians
since the beginning of the year over plans to pay them on a banded,
fixed-fee basis, rather than an hourly rate – now the focus of an
impending judicial review – but until only last week there had been
a commitment to an offer of self-employment.
Diane Shepherd, Cafcass chief executive, insisted that contracts
for services were not in the agency’s long-term best interests.
However, Joe Kuipers, director of operations, added: “We do have
potentially a short-term issue to address on how we meet some of
the work this summer.”
Contingency plans include a parallel recruitment campaign for
private/public law practitioners on the same contracts offered to
the guardians, advising the family courts on the impact of a
potential shortfall, and the future development of a “bank” scheme
of part-time employees, Kuipers said.
Meanwhile, guardians who reject the offer are being asked to
complete their current cases, paid on their original self-employed
However, Cafcass’ plans to deduct PAYE and national insurance
from payments from August onwards would threaten those guardians’
self-employed status, and could force them to drop their cases at
the end of the month. This could cause a backlog of up to 500 cases
over the summer, according to one guardian.