Just guess how long s7 reports in private children disputes are taking round here? 8-9 months! What a complete disaster. Its got so bad that the Judges appear to be abandoning CAFCASS altogether and ordering reports from Independent Social Workers.
The irony of this is that whilst the Government is busy underfunding CAFCASS the work has got to be done - and paid for - and these reports are having to be paid for through the parents legal aid certificates - either way the Government pays. And no doubt if CAFCASS were properly funded and run it could do the work far cheaper than could be done through ISWs so although its presently the only solution in many cases its not fiscally sensible in the long run.
What IS a problem however is this: what happens if one or both parents aren't legally aided? They can't be expected to pay for the failure of a service (CAFCASS) which is meant to be free to all families. This is already a problem where expert reports (eg psychiatric) are required, but of course that occurs far less frequently - welfare reports are far more commonplace and are notionally at no expense to the parent. If parents can't pay, or if the LSC starts to refuse to meet the costs of these reports (which frankly is only a matter of time) - families and children in particular will lose out. Its really VERY depressing - what do you tell a client? Forget about complaints about secret justice etc etc - DELAY in obtaining a report that is essential to the determination of the case is the real injustice here.
POSTSCRIPT 22 SEPT: I KNEW this wouldn't last long. See this post.