Guardians’ chief says conciliation plans may fail if not given resources

    The chief executive of the Children and Family Court Advisory and
    Support Service has admitted resources will be stretched by new
    duties to promote conciliation in custody cases.

    Anthony Douglas’s admission follows claims by children’s minister
    Margaret Hodge last week that Cafcass may not be able to cope with
    its new responsibilities, despite them being a “political
    imperative” .

    Douglas said it was a “big question” whether Cafcass had the
    resources to deliver the government’s proposals for conciliation
    services, due to be in place across the country by March
    2006.

    He said the organisation already faced a number of pressures
    including an explosion in private law cases involving particularly
    vulnerable children, the need to double spending on training, and
    staff shortages in London, other cities and the Home
    Counties.

    And, while he accepted that resources could be shifted from
    report-writing to conciliation, he said this depended on judges
    commissioning less comprehensive reports from Cafcass.

    However, he added: “We believe totally in the principles and want
    to deliver the early intervention model.”
    Douglas said it would cost Cafcass £3m to implement the
    government’s family justice proposals, which will be included in a
    draft bill during the current parliamentary session.

    Cafcass has only been given a budget increase for 2005-6 in line
    with inflation, but Douglas said it may have to call for increased
    resources for 2006-7. He said that, in the past few months, there
    had been a doubling in private law cases under section 9.5 of the
    Family Proceedings Rules 1991, where children are allocated
    guardians because of their particular vulnerability.

    “These take up to three times as much time as traditional private
    law cases… and have diverted resources from other areas,” he
    said.
    Douglas added that the organisation was taking action to tackle
    claims of increased staff harassment, raised by family court union
    Napo and guardians’ representative body Nagalro. He cited an
    increase in “insidious” hostility against staff from people who
    thought Cafcass was biased against them, including fathers’ rights
    groups.

    Cafcass has written to the Royal Mail highlighting the importance
    of practitioners’ addresses remaining confidential and pledged to
    take further steps to protect staff over the next few weeks.

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