High court imposes ‘stay’ in guardians dispute

    A collapse in the children’s guardians service was averted this
    week, with the decision by the high court to impose a six-week
    “stay” on the employment contracts offered by the Children and
    Family Court Advisory and Support Service to the self-employed
    guardians who represent vulnerable children in care and adoption
    cases.

    The high court decision represents a reprieve, albeit temporary,
    for the self-employed guardians in their dispute with Cafcass,
    which has seen a withdrawal of the option of self-employment.

    More than half of the 750 self-employed guardians had indicated
    the contracts were “unacceptable” when they receive them at the
    beginning of July with three weeks to make up their minds.

    The high court has also given the guardians’ professional body,
    the National Association of Guardians Ad Litem and Reporting
    Officers (Nagalro), permission for a full judicial review hearing
    in September on the issue of self-employment.

    “It is most regrettable that it has taken high court
    intervention to bring Cafcass to full and open consultation on
    contracts,” said Nagalro chairperson Susan Bindman.

    “But we are convinced that we can now make progress in our bid
    to save and properly develop the service which is critical to the
    interests of vulnerable children in care and adoption cases.”

    Cafcass will continue to allocate work to the self-employed
    guardians on their existing terms, but will also proceed with its
    parallel recruitment process for public and private law
    practitioners.

    Since then the guardians have been in a running battle with
    Cafcass over the terms of their transferral, which centre on
    proposals to pay fixed fees as opposed to an hourly rate. Guardians
    claim that the changes threaten their professional independence and
    the quality and scope of their work.

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