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Posts Tagged ‘CAFCASS’

Thank Goodness for that – the new(ish) President of the Family Division has decided not to renew the guidance and may scrap the duty guardian scheme. See this article extracting an interview reported fully in Family Affairs.

On another note, a proposal to scrap CAFCASS and to reallocate it’s responsibilities to local authorities. Clearly something pretty radical needs to be done, but I’m no fan of that as a solution – whatever arrangements are made it is crucial that arrangements for the provision of Guardians, and to a lesser extent for reporting in children matters to be independent of local authorities.

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Joint Position Statement from the Interdisciplinary Alliance for Children on CAFCASS working practices on the NAGALRO website (click on latest news in left hand menu, doc is currently 2nd item down in list). Nagalro and ALC have written to Anthony Douglas (CEO CAFCASS) to notify him that they will be advising their members not to comply with the CAFCASS policy of using pro forma letters to limit the role of a Guardian in care proceedings which they say is incompatible both with s41 Children Act 1989 and the personal professional obligations a Guardian owes to the court and in respect of their own professional code of conduct. Letters bear reading in full (see here and again on NAGALRO website).

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This sort of bust up has been a long time coming. However, am presently too distracted with post-wisdom-tooth-extraction wooziness to comment meaningfully….today you must read for yourselves.

POSTSCRIPT: CAFCASS CEO Anthony Douglas’ response to the letters and position statement.

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I have a current bugbear, but don’t get me wrong: I don’t want to add to the mass of negativity surrounding the dread word ‘social worker’. This post really only concerns the cases where the quality of s7 reports prepared by social workers in private proceedings falls far short of the expected standard. Most reports are adequate, many are much more than adequate. But there is a certain (how shall I say it?) patchiness.

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Even Forrest Gump knows that s7 reports are like a box of chocolates (you never know whatchu gonna git – are you going to get the truffle, or the orange creme nobody wants? Apologies for the naff analogy but it’s nearly time to knock off for the hols and a big tin of Christmas chocs is beckoning…) As for s7 reports, I’ve had a few orange cremes lately, and whilst I am the kind of social outcast who is happy to scoff all the orange cremes at the bottom of the tin (I love ’em), when it comes to duff s7 reports there is an important point of policy beneath that sparkly foil wrapping (Okay, enough of the analogy it’s making my teeth hurt).

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Occasionally a Judge will decide that a s7 report is flawed or that there is some other good reason to depart from a recommendation contained in it. Usually they do so politely and without hurting anybody’s feelings. Very occasionally a Judge will decide that a s7 report is so badly flawed that it warrants being spelt out in the judgment in terms which are quite strongly critical of the report writer. I have dealt with perhaps 3 or 4 of these in the last couple of years. Very very occasionally the Judge will be so unhappy with the quality of the s7 report that they will order a copy of the judgment be sent to social services to ensure that they are aware of the court’s concern (this can only happen with the court’s permission – parties cannot disclose the judgment themselves without permission). Incidentally, I’ve yet to deal with one of these cases where the media has been present, but I suppose it is only a matter of time before a similar case is identified by the media and permission given for it to be reported.

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In most of the cases that I have dealt with where a judgment has been highly critical of an unsatisfactory s7 report that report has been prepared by social services: by a social worker who may or may not be experienced but who has very little experience of private law work or of s7 reports (in one case a CAFCASS report was prepared by a sandwich year social work undergraduate on a work placement at CAFCASS). Clearly this is nothing like a statistically valid sample, but my sense is that (for better or for worse) the organisational quality checks on reports may tend to be more rigorous within CAFCASS than elsewhere. Big generalisation, but that’s my sense. In some respects this should come as no surprise since it used to be the expectation (not so any more since CAFCASS has ground to a halt) that most s7 reports were produced by CAFCASS as a matter of course – its what CAFCASS DO, and its more of a sideline for social services. In recent times of course the courts have been forced to fall back on social services to prepare s7 reports where CAFCASS cannot, and no doubt this is an additional pressure on often reluctant Local Authorities who would frankly rather be focussing their resources on child protection and on actual or potential care cases.

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The Times reports on p 23 this morning that Cafcass has been given an extra £1.6m to help with the backlog in care cases.

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PM today ran a piece on the Crisis at CAFCASS, inolving comically disguised voices of Guardian’s and a teeny but undisguised snippet from yours truly. Sad that CAFCASS employee’s feel unable to identify themselves without repurcussions. It does not speak of a happy working environment. Listen here on BBC iplayer for another 7 days – it starts at about 24 mins in.

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Two unconnected pieces of info for you:

Firstly, the Bar Standards Board has approved barristers forming LDPs. Big changes ahead I think. Thanks to the LAG blog for this.

Secondly, PM on Radio 4 briefly covered the CAFCASS Crisis today – tomorrow they will run another slot with comment from Guardians. On Radio 4 tomorrow (Weds) between 5 and 6pm.

Postscript:

I have to post a link to this story reported today in The Times about the LSC refusing to fund new cases being taken on by solicitors. Yet another bit falls off the wagon. The whole system is falling to pieces.

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Well, it had to happen sooner or later. I’m only surprised it wasn’t sooner – mutterings about this petered out some months ago on the issue of the President’s interim Guidance on managing the CAFCASS crisis.

But now a firm of solicitors acting for a child involved in proceedings have secured public funding to launch a Judicial Review of CAFCASS and the Department for Children Schools & Families which funds it. The Official Solicitor will be taking responsibility for the case, which is now in preparation. As part of that preparation solicitors in the case are gathering evidence from professionals up and down the country in respect of CAFCASS delays and the impact upon children caught up in proceedings.

The solicitors handling this case are at pains to stress that such a challenge is not one aimed at running down the hard working CAFCASS Officers who are overwhelmed by impossible caseloads, but at the funding and management of the organisation as a whole which has led to the wholescale collapse of service provision for children within timescales appropriate to them.

No doubt a JR will be difficult to pull off, but let us hope that it is sufficiently embarrassing to produce an injection of funding and a rethink on the part of those who manage the purse strings and the organisation.

Watch this space…

UPDATE Evening of Mon 16 Nov: I have had a number of enquiries today about the source of this information. It has come from the solicitors firm involved, who have confirmed they are happy for this basic information to be published. As I understand it this application is at a pre-issue stage and the solicitors are seeking factual information from legal professionals only – I would guess primarily in respect of care cases (or other cases involving a child’s guardian) rather than any case involving CAFCASS. Many of you share your opinions about CAFCASS on this blog, but I believe the exercise at present is one of gathering specific and measurable data rather than opinion or narrative.

As and when more information becomes available I will post it, but for the meantime I’m going to let the solicitors involved get on with their preparation.

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