Hodge warns guardians’ body may have problems with mediation role

    The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service may
    not be able to cope with its new responsibilities to promote
    mediation in child custody cases, the children’s minister has
    said.

    Giving evidence to MPs examining the family courts system,
    Margaret Hodge said that Cafcass’s new responsibilities might also
    detract from its public law work protecting vulnerable
    children.
    Hodge told the constitutional affairs committee that Cafcass’s new
    role of in-court conciliation in custody cases was a “political
    imperative”.

    But she added that Cafcass had not escaped its legacy of
    failure, despite improvements since former Suffolk Council social
    services director Anthony Douglas took over as chief executive in
    September.
    She said she accepted there was a “danger” in the proposals to
    extend the agency’s role alongside existing commitments to
    prioritise public law cases and turn the organisation around. “The
    political imperative is that we have to run these things together,”
    she said.

    Hodge added that there were still problems about the quantity
    and quality of staff but told the committee that Cafcass’s budget
    would not receive a real terms funding increase in 2005-6,
    following a 9 per cent rise in 2004-5.

    Cafcass’s new responsibilities, including focusing more on
    mediation and less on writing lengthy reports, were set out in a
    document on parental separation published by the government this
    week, following a consultation that ended last November.

    The paper, which introduces changes for services across England
    and Wales, notes that many respondents to the consultation
    “expressed concerns about the capacity of Cafcass to deliver the
    new services”.
    It adds: “This reflected both the concerns about the resources
    available to Cafcass and anxiety about the levels of competence of
    Cafcass staff.”

    The document also rejects calls to create a law that would
    automatically prevent parents having access to children unless it
    is proven to be safe. Instead, applicants will be allowed to inform
    courts about allegations of domestic violence at the beginning of a
    case. Integrated domestic violence courts, where one judge hears
    criminal and family aspects of cases, will also be piloted.

    • Parental Separation: Children’s Needs and Parents’
      Responsibilities – Next Steps from www.tso.co.uk/bookshop

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