The crisis in family court proceedings shows no sign of abating.
Last year the chronic shortage of guardians ad litem to represent
children’s interests during court proceedings led one leading
children’s advocate to claim that lives were being put at risk.
And, if anything, delays in court are lengthening, with proceedings
in one of the worst affected counties typically taking well over a
year to complete.
So the Lord Chancellor’s Department is absolutely right to produce
guidelines stipulating a maximum of 40 weeks, still well up on the
13 weeks originally envisaged in the Children Act 1989. It is a
great pity that the High Court did not see fit to reinforce the
message instead of ruling that the Children and Family Court
Advisory Support Service had no obligation to make guardians
available immediately upon request.
The prolonged uncertainty which hangs over children in these cases
can only deepen their predicament. Any hopes that a child can
regain stability in their future lives, whether in their own family
home, in the care system or through adoption, must be adversely
affected by the failure to provide them with this essential
support. Cafcass has begun recruiting agency staff and guardians’
pay rates have increased by 10 per cent or more. It is too early to
tell whether this will solve the problem, but the welfare of
thousands of children will depend on it working.