The Department for Children, Schools and families (DCSF) has admitted ministers are considering changing the law around the role of named guardians to represent children in court.
It is the first time the government has gone on record on the issue, although rumours have been circulating for months. Sources have said discussions with ministers had revealed the clauses were in preparation with parliamentary council to be added into the draft Schools and Safeguarding Children bill.
In response to questions from Community Care a spokesperson from the DCSF said: “We are clear that there is a need to improve Cafcass’ accountability structures to allow Cafcass to manage its staff effectively if we are to gurantee that every child will get a high-quality service from their children’s guardian.
“Ministers are currently considering the best way to achieve this, and are speaking to stakeholders to help inform this decision.”
An alliance of 20 organisations including the Association of Lawyers for Children, NAGALRO, the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), the Children’s Commissioner and Royal College of Paediatrics and Health have teamed together to try and resist the changes to section 41 of the Children Act 1989.
Co-chair of the Association of Lawyers for Children Caroline Little said she understood the pressures Cafcass was under with the unprecedented levels of referrals since the Baby P case and its fixed budget.
“But what we’re saying is that you don’t change primary legislation in order to deal with an emergency budgetary problem.”
A statement from the alliance said the current system of named guardians ensured continuity of oversight in cases. Children needed this continuity so they could trust that someone was speaking for their interests throughout a court case.
Cafcass chief executive Anthony Douglas said although Cafcass would always want and intend to allocate a named guardian for children “sometimes, in teams with high volumes of new cases, duty guardians can play a vital positive role in the early stage of cases”.
“Cafcass has a cash-limited budget which must be unambiguously spent on children and young people whose needs are acorded the highest priority. Any steps or measures which strengthen the framework for making these difficult daily choices are to be welcomed,” he said.
Cafcass and Nagalro in care case priority row