Staff shortages cause court delays

Nearly 2,000 children involved in private and public law care
proceedings have had their cases delayed because of an acute
shortage of staff.

Latest figures from the Children And Family Court Advisory and
Support Service show that at the end of last year 609 public law
cases had no guardian allocated to them, while a further 1,254
private law cases were still waiting to be allocated to a family
court adviser.

Over the past year, Cafcass has been struggling to find enough
guardians and independent social workers to represent children’s
interests in care proceedings, with delays in the time to complete
cases doubling in some of the worst affected areas. Late last year,
two children died while they were awaiting the allocation of a

Cafcass said it needed an extra £6m to employ additional staff
to deal with the backlog. Jonathan Tross, acting chief executive of
Cafcass until July 2004, said it was trying to recruit more
practitioners to tackle the delays.

However, pressure is also being piled on court advisers mediating
in acrimonious divorce and separation proceedings involving
children. Cases are increasing and the government and Cafcass are
in discussions over how guardians could increase their involvement
in these private law cases (news, page 8, 6 March).

Family court advisers said they were handling between 70 and 120
private law cases a year, up from the normal 60, with some voicing
concerns that this could lead to corners being cut and children’s
safety being put at risk.

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