Guardians body makes case for £5m bail-out with plea over rising costs

The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service is in
talks with the Department for Constitutional Affairs over extra
funding to cover an expected overspend of £5m this year.

Jonathan Tross, Cafcass chief executive, said the main reasons
were the record number of cases in the early summer and the large
sums spent on self-employed guardians.

Tross told Cafcass’s first public board meeting last week
that the service had no control over the demand it was managing
within finite resources. The number of public law cases referred to
Cafcass has risen by 7.5 per cent a year, although the rate has
slowed recently. It has a budget of £95m for 2003-4.

Tross said he had met children’s minister Margaret Hodge
and Department of Health permanent secretary Nigel Crisp who were
“aware we are struggling in the present financial year and are
potentially going to struggle next year if they don’t align
expenditure with demand”.

The financial problems draw into question whether Cafcass will
be able to tackle the continuing delays in allocating guardians to
children entering the care system – an issue highlighted by this
year’s damning DCA select committee report.

Figures for 2002-3 show Cafcass spent 13 per cent of its
£12m budget on self-employed guardians. It is expecting to
spend a similar sum this year, although some of

this expenditure relates to work carried out by self-employed
guardians last year.

Tross reiterated Cafcass’s commitment to a mixed economy
of employed and self-employed guardians and said he would write to
those who left the service over contractual wrangles to ask them to
consider returning.

It was also revealed at the meeting that Cafcass was “unlikely
to meet for some time” its new performance targets for allocating a
guardian to cases within two days. In addition, it will not be
completing cases within the 40-week time frame, recommended by its
new case management protocol, until early 2006.

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