Judges tell MPs why the children’s guardian service is going downhill

The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service is
failing to improve services for children, families and the courts,
a committee of MPs was told this week.

During the first day’s hearing of an inquiry by the committee of
the Lord Chancellor’s Department into the work of Cafcass, four
senior judges told MPs that the service had failed to meet several
of its key objectives in its first two years.

They were particularly concerned about the delays it was
experiencing in appointing guardians to represent children in care
as a result of the general shortage of guardians.

Judge Nicholas Crichton, of the inner London family proceedings
court, said some of the most vulnerable children were having to
wait months for a guardian to be appointed, with the problem being
particularly bad in London and the North East.

There are between 180 and 200 cases in London where a guardian is
yet to be appointed, with some children waiting 18 weeks. Of these,
70 are classified as priority cases, where the children are
particularly young or have been abused or neglected.

Care proceedings were being delayed as a result, he said, citing
one case where an interim care order applied for in January was
delayed for 12 weeks “adding immeasurably to the costs of the
proceedings, the care of the children and tying up judicial, court,
guardian and social work resources”. He added: “[Guardians] used to
be available within 24 to 48 hours and working on the case within a

Crichton said that the service offered to the family courts had not
yet improved and in some cases had deteriorated, while Cafcass had
also failed to improve services offered to families in private law
cases and those mediating in contact disputes between parents.

Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, president of the High Court Family
Division, told the committee the dispute over employment contracts
between Cafcass and self-employed guardians last year had got the
service off to a “dreadful start”, resulting in many guardians

“It will take time for them to be replaced,” she said.

However, she added that a significant rise in the number of cases
coming to court had also contributed to delays.

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