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Alliance calls for reform of CAFCASS

2 August 2010

An alliance of 18 organisations including lawyers, social workers and foster carers has called for reform of the Children and Family Courts Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS).

The government is considering the future of CAFCASS, which was criticised last week by the National Audit Office for failing to properly use extra funding of £4.8m to tackle its backlog, failing to improve staff morale or address high rates of staff sickness.

The Interdisciplinary Alliance for Children, which includes the Association of Lawyers for Children (ALC) and the Family Law Bar Association, said the situation was “too serious” for the government to wait for the outcome of its family justice review.

Barbara Hopkin, press officer for the ALC and partner at Hopkin Murray Beskine, said whether CAFASS was significantly reformed or abolished did not matter as long as the service to children was “much better than it is at the present”.

She went on: “It has become more and more like a social services department.

“It is not supposed to run safeguarding tests or get involved in a lot of box-ticking. That’s not what the court needs.

“CAFCASS should be representing the voice of the child and recommending the best outcome on an independent basis rather than taking a generalist approach.”

Hopkin said guardians had been “totally overburdened” with cases, which they could not properly deal with.

“A number of them are close to breaking point with the stress of it all,” she said. “They are looking unwell and leaving in droves.”

“You should only appoint a guardian where you really need one. That would be the honest approach.”

In a joint statement, the alliance questioned whether the CAFCASS model was the most effective one in terms of outcomes for children or cost-effective use of resources.

“From August 2009 CAFCASS has been on an emergency footing and has only been able to offer a ‘minimum safe standard’ of service delivery.

“A gap has opened up between organisational definitions of what constitutes a ‘safe minimum’ and the statutory duty to give paramount consideration to the best interests of the child.”

The alliance criticised the assumption that “what is best for CAFCASS as an organisation will also be best for children”.

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Children Local government