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Fin de Siecle or the Golden Age Destroyed

March 31, 2010

Cafcass has been given another £10m of public money. They intend spending it “to fund the transition from the current service to a more sustainable long-term service in a tougher financial climate” said Anthony Douglas according to Community Care. In other words throw it straight down the same black hole where all the previous funding has gone without producing any discernible benefit. Margaret Wilson, chair of the Family Courts Committee at the Magistrates’ Association said  “We need proper welfare advice and we need to know these vulnerable children are being allocated a named guardian throughout the entire case. We want a restoration of the full Rolls Royce service.”  Douglas said such a service resembled a Golden Age and was no longer sustainable. Alison Paddle of Nagalro said it was, “no coincidence that the backlogs in Cafcass’s service happened at a time of Ofsted-driven increases in bureaucracy, along with a bullying management ethos and when head office salary costs tripled in a year. Only a reversal of all these wasteful approaches will lead to children once again receiving the high-quality, prompt, efficient service that is their statutory right,” she added.

The ending of the Golden Age

What a pickle. The Golden Age” of the Children’s Guardian service came to an abrupt end on 31st March 2001. How can I be so precise? Because 1st April 2001, all fools day, was when Cafcass came into being and it has lurched from one bad joke to another ever since. In reality the pre-Cafcass period was not a Golden Age nor was the Guardian service provided to family courts dealing with abused and neglected children a Rolls Royce Service. The Guardian service provided to the courts from 1984 to 2001, largely by independent social work professionals, was only perceived as exceptionally good in comparison with the ill-managed, under-staffed, penny-pinching very poor services provided to families and children by (most) local authority social service departments of the sort that Hazel Lamb and many other good social workers have departed from in despair.

While on the one hand government talks about independent social work “practices” over the last nine years Cafcass and the Department for Children, Families and Schools and have ruthlessly eliminated the only sizeable example of independent professional social work practice in the UK.  The pre-existing highly regarded Guardian service was characterised by officialdom as “ramshackle”, and in need of management. Well, it has been just about managed to death. Even a small parallel example of independent social work practice – expert witnesses at court, are to be exterminated by ensuring, via the Legal Aid system and the Ministry of Justice ensuring that the fees for such work are set at uneconomically low rates.

The Way Back

How to get back to the “Golden Age”, serve children and the courts better and do so more economically? Easy – just revert to running the Guardian service on a contracted out basis and pay social work experts proper fees. I have no doubt that the private law, (the ex Court Welfare service) could also be contracted out in the same way as was the Guardian service and to the same beneficial effect. A much smaller Cafcass could then revert to the more appropriate role of providing courts with lists of approved contractors and paying the contractors (individuals, group practices or small not for profit employers) the appropriate market rates to ensure fluctuating demands were met.

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