CAFCASS – What to do?

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.

F4J Relaunch

Pootling around on the internet in the light of this weeks horse painting shennanigans I came across Matt O’Connor’s new blog Father4Justice, the new F4J website (be warned, it looks nice but plays annoying music which won’t turn off) and facebook group for the recently relaunched Fathers 4 Justice. Matt O’Connor’s first substantive blog post explaining the decision to re-enter the fray and to relaunch F4J is (as ever with Matt O’Connor) punchy, hard hitting and well crafted – it roused my rabble – and I’m “the enemy”.

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But seriously, although I don’t buy into many of the conspiracy theories about the anti-male agenda of the system, there is a place for campaigns for reform of the family justice system – dads, mums and kids do very often get a raw deal. And although I recognise that for many I’m part of the problem, I like to think I do my bit for justice, even though I do it from within the system.

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As for public campaigns, I’m sure that Matt O’Connor is a fantastic spokesperson and l0bbyist for F4J, and the new web / social media presence is certainly well designed and slick – and importantly very grown up. But how does F4J (the ‘official campaign’ as it has been forced to call itself) deal with the splitters and splinter groups that persistently damage its reputation and undermine the progress it is striving to make? Its the same old problem faced from Northern Ireland to Monty Python and I don’t think there is an easy answer. It damages credibility and its a chronic problem – and judging from correspondence being circulated by New F4J* its a problem that is likely to become acute in coming months.

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* I’m puzzled by this email from New F4J [edited to refer correctly to NEW F4J- oops], which starts off by ‘not condoning’ the vandalism, but by the end rather appears to have turned about face: ‘so be it’ and even to threaten more of the same ‘expect the unexpected’. That doesn’t read to me as a completely wholehearted condemnation of criminal acts in the name of father’s rights.

ISWs throw in the towel

Community Care reports on the prospect of Independent Social Workers quitting over the fees cap to be introduced by the LSC in October. What the article fails to disentangle (in fact it rather adds to the confusion) is the distinction between ISWs contracted by CAFCASS on a self employed basis to carry out Guardian or report writing work it does not have the in house resource to manage (and for which CAFCASS pays its own rate) and ISWs instructed as an expert by the parties with the permission of the court, and whose costs will be met (usually) by the LSC at its own rate. I know that there have been complaints about both the CAFCASS rate and the proposed rate via the LSC, and the thrust of the article is right: ISWs are finding it a real squeeze. Many are  quitting working for CAFCASS, or have already done so, only to find that their other source of self employed income i.e. expert instructions will also be severely limited.

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It’s important to distinguish between a self employed CAFCASS Guardian and a social worker who is instructed as an independent expert in the case with the permission of the court. Their roles are quite different, and whilst each is independent in their own way it is not the role of a Guardian to conduct in depth assessments of a family or children. Where that work has not been completed by social services or has not been completed satisfactorily or with an independent and open mind the only means by which a parent can obtain a fair and thorough assessment is via ISW report. This type of report can turn a case around. If social workers flee not just CAFCASS, but refuse to undertake assessments at £30 an hour too, there will be injustices.