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  • Cafcass chief Anthony Douglas is called to account by judge
  • By Frances Gibb, Legal Editor
  • The Times
  • 29/05/2009 Make a Comment (2)
  • Contributed by: Daveyone ( 29 articles in 2009 )
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Cafcass chief Anthony Douglas is called to account by judge Anthony Douglas, head of the children's court agency, was told that delays made a mockery of the words 'access to justice'

The head of the children’s court agency was summoned by a judge yesterday to explain “deplorable and entirely unacceptable” case delays after the Baby Peter scandal.

District Judge Byron Carron set up a live conference call from his court in Swindon and questioned Anthony Douglas, the chief executive of the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (Cafcass), for 70 minutes over “inordinate” delays in children’s cases.

The judge alerted the media to the occasion — making deliberate use of the new transparency in family courts since they were opened to the press last month after a campaign led by The Times.

His action was prompted by anger and frustration over the several months that it can take Cafcass to provide reports about where a child should live or what contact it should have with a parent.

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In other cases where children at risk have been taken into care, it can be 12 weeks before a guardian, or social worker, is appointed to represent a child’s interests — without which a hearing cannot take place.

District Judge Carron said: “No parents or children should have to wait many months before knowing the outcome of their proceedings. It makes a mockery of the words ‘access to justice’.”

Cafcass has experienced an increase in its workload of nearly 40 per cent since the Baby Peter case, with a total of 739 new cases arriving in March this year, compared with 536 the year before. In all it has 100,000 cases in England and Wales.

Three cases before District Judge Carron had led him to summon Mr Douglas.

In the first one a father had not seen his daughter for a year — although that was partly because he did not apply for a contact order to be enforced until October 1, 2008. After two requests for more time from Cafcass, the due date for filing its report is now July 15 — eight months later.

In the second case an application was made for an order dealing with residence and contact and a Cafcass report was ordered to be produced by March. After two requests for more time, the due date is now July 20 — eight months after the first request.

The third case involves a child who has been taken into care. An application for an interim care order was made in March but although a guardian should be appointed within three days in such cases this will not happen until mid-June.

The judge said: “Anyone who has listened to these cases will quickly realise the lamentable delays there are in the preparation of reports. Such delays cause considerable distress to the parties but, more importantly, to many of the children involved in the matters.”

He said that the delay in the care case was not isolated and that he had heard of an “even worse” case in which a guardian had not been appointed after five months.

Mr Douglas, who has held his post since 2004, accepted that the delays were “unacceptably long” and undertook to review the cases in question. But he said that the cases and the wider issues raised were best tackled out of the public glare.

He said that when cases came into Cafcass, they were listed according to urgency so that those involving children at risk were tackled first and “lives saved”. But he said: “We have in the past few months experienced the highest public law [care] increases we have ever had and that would place a strain on any organisation. It has been an extraordinary period.”

The case of Baby Peter had raised public awareness and large numbers of cases that might have been dealt with in the community were being brought to court. He insisted that, on average, reports were provided in 16 weeks. Guardians had been provided within three days in 98 per cent of cases “until recent months”.

Cafcass was now working with senior judges to cut the time spent preparing reports to ten to twelve weeks, by drawing up shorter reports concentrating on specific issues.

After the hearing Mr Douglas said: “On the same day Judge Carron expressed himself, the leading judge in the next county praised our local service. Any national organisation has variations. Some of what was said in court today is inaccurate following checks afterwards. We will put the record straight privately with judges.”


How long courts wait for Cafcass reports:

Bristol 26-34 weeks

Basingstoke 15 weeks

Southampton 16 weeks

Aldershot 17 weeks

Bournemouth 17 weeks or more

Gloucester 20 weeks and no date now given in many cases

Portsmouth up to 22 weeks

Trowbridge 34 to 40 weeks

Have your say

In our Caffcass are too busy destroying case files of childwho was never abused or neglected prior to the case being brought to court.
Note it takes 42 weeks to investigate then fact find the threshold.
Far 2 many emotional harm allegation cases and crystal ball gazing.

linda McDemott, luton, bedfordshire

15 months ago ofsted said cafcass were 'unfit for purpose' and 'a danger to children, Douglas said he needed 18 months to correct the problems. In march ofsted found cafcass 'unfit for purpose' douglas says another 18 months. Cafcass will always be 'unfit for purpose' it's their statzi dogma.

Michelle, Hemel, England

The real problem with Cafcass is Anthony Douglas. In his 4 years at Cafcass he has set in motion a continuous process of restructure.
He has Instigated bureaucratic forms for staff to complete and and endless stream of policy changes. Staff are unclear what they are expected to be doing or what policy's to follow what forms to complete.
Anthony reacts to the latest crisis or the last person he speaks to, with no planning, his lack of ability has even started to be noticed by Ed Balls
There is no lack of funds in Cafcass but Staff have bureaucratic forms and processes that prevent them from doing what they do best – basic social work

Rob, London, England

They love their privacy, don't they?
Pity they are not so keen on accountability.
How inconvenient the 'public glare!'
Does anyone imagine that any good can come from this time-serving bureaucrat?

David Martin, Bristol, UK

complaints about CAFCASS officers are dismissed and when children are not at risk they appoint a CAFCASS officer quickly and then CAFCASS set up an unecessary custody battle and care proceedings!!! A waste of money time and resources that at risk children need!!!

sarah crompton, worthing, England

"His action was prompted by anger and frustration over the several months that it can take Cafcass to provide reports about where a child should live or what contact it should have with a parent."

Apparently children have been reduced to objects. Where will it live?

Sammy, Crimson,

Cafcass do not work with the families or bother if there is any truth in allegations etc. Their only concern is working with the other agencies. They are party to the wrongful removal of many children and the neglet of children needing urgent help.
The whole area of child protection needs reform.

sheila, Chichester, West Sussex

I spent 4 years going through the family courts simply to regularise contact with my son. Against our wishes, presiding judges choose to continually request CAFCASS reports. This was unnecessary & a total waste of CAFCASS resources particularly when there was no question of our son being at risk.

Thomas, Beckenham, UK

Why do we pt up with such poor performance from state bodies.

If they were using contractors they would be imposing perfoprmance requirements - but they don't impose these on themselves.

Merlin, Northampton,

ALL applications for care orders are by definition serious. There is no question of prioritising them. They exist because local authorities believe children have suffered or are at risk of suffering harm. Either way, NONE of them should be put to the back of any queue.

Stephen Mannering, Nottingham,

Why is it that the governmant can find millions of ££ for the bankers but no money to look after needy children. There is a huge issue in our society - our overall priorities!! Put money in healthcare, pay the teachers and nurses and for goodness sakes have some properly trained & paid soc workers!!

Sue S, London, UK

If a child case goes to court there must be a wadge of reports available from social workers and other professionals. Give those to the judge to help decide a case rather than wait for another layer of quangolese reports. What happened to a fair and speedy trial? Not fair on kids or parents.

Dennis Greig, Belfast, Antrim

I think it is important that these issues are raised. My experience s that CAFCAS workers are overwhelmed by assessments. If the Govt really want to put children first they have to realise that qualified staff must be available in the right numbers. And this applies to social work too.

KatyB, malmesbury, wiltshire

At every opportunity CAFCASS attempt to put court reports onto the toes of the Local Authority.
I accept that funding is an issue but when you hear stories about plush office refurbs prior to inspections(when most workers operate from home) it is obvious what the issues are.

Gary, durham, England

Do not blame the scapegoat. How about the " Chief", the Minister responsible. No doubt the politician s set up this body without appropriate staffing or funding.

DJ, Winsford, UK

I cannot agree that Cafcass are ''underfunded'', these court social workers are paid sacks of money. It is not about more money, it is to do with their performance. Most of Cafcass staff are too busy maliciously taking children away from good parents, whom Cafcass see as easy targets to demonise.

John, York, UK

Why is the civil service so poor at doing anything with a sense of urgency? Everything takes weeks to do even if the decision making process is a 1 person judgment that wil take 1 hour. Lazy or just hopelessly unorganised I dont know. I dont think it can be under resourced given uk tax take levels.

Greg, Hong Kong, China

In January CAFCASS was ordered to produce a welfare report for my son. They failed to produce the report as ordered and asked for the court to delay the hearing by another three months. It will soon be over a year since I have had any contact with my son, with six months of that caused by CAFCASS.

Brian Cooke, Totnes, UK

Chief Executive is the responsible manager. If he fails to satisfactorily manage then he must be replaced by a more competent manager. If the workload is increasing then the Cafcass staff must work harder.

Chris Goodman, Fareham, England

Surely Children's safety needs cant be all the same and it is so right to decide the most in need getting a service first ? A first come first served approach surely cannot work when dealing with children's lives..

Ayesha Smart, Northampton,

I am currently watching my daughter go throughthis system and because of the delays insocial worker assessment and off the cuff unsupervised contact orders my grandson has suffered neglect at the hands of his ill equipped father. He breeches court orders but we cant get time in front of a judge.

kathy stewrt, benfleet, england

This was a good move by the judge. Lack of funding has made CAFCASS's performance patchy ever since it replaced the Court Welfare Service. Although the problems may not be the fault of particular individuals, even at the top, this publicity is a good start to showing up a very inadequate system.

Kevin Beach, Crawley, England

I am a solicitor representing 2 babies in care proceedings that began on 10 March and there is still no sign of a Guardian nearly 12 weeks later. I have no idea when a Guardian will be appointed and in London there are over 200 unallocated cases . So much for prioritising child protection!

Blackford, Croydon, Surrey

When will the secret family courts ever start to take on board that section 11 of the 1989 Children Act specifically provideds that a child may reside and live with both his or her parents after separation or divorce? CAFCASS incompetence and delay denies children's need for love from both parents.

Euegn Hockenjos, London, UK

Blame the government for taking away all the funding

Jane, brighton, england

It is easy for a Judge to criticise delays in Cafcass but it is an organisation with finite resources, which is another way of saying staff who are stretched beyond their limits. Cafcass is now picking up the pieces of an overstretched and failing Social Services system.

Mike , Bournemouth, Dorset

Cafcass is a lamentable organisaton, heavily criticised in a series of damning reports by Ofsted, its monitoring body. It is one of the many failing parts of this country's appalling family law industry. If Douglas really wants to improve it, he should stop denying the scale of the problem.

Calum Chace, London,

There is also widespread disgust and disquiet about Cafcass with the public too. Their methods when dealing with families are often deeply disturbing and frequently harmful. It is time this dreadful organisation was dispensed with - it does far more harm than good.Cafcass is not fit for purpose.

B J Davies, Rhondda, Wales

"best dealt with out of the public glare"???? Sums the whole NEW LABOUR project up nicely!

stuart robb, London, UK

Read all 29 comments
Have your say


    By:Melizza Moore from Britain, England on July 11, 2009 @ 11:04 am
    CAFCASS.Is a joke that is not funny. Kiddy stealers on behalf of the L.A. It Gets the courts votes here.OH AND THE DOSH PROMISED TO THEM.
    By:Daveyone from Hertfordshire, England on May 30, 2009 @ 11:09 pm
    Cafcass is only one obstruction to Justice!
    Frances Gibb (The Times 29/05/09) once again offers us an insight into the murky world of Family Law, with District Judge Byron Carron calling on Anthony Douglas, Head of CAFCASS
    to account for the delays in processing reports on child welfare issues.
    Unfortunately the Judge should also take account of his own short comings when sighting a father who ‘failed to apply for a contact order to be enforced’ as if he had read Lord Justice Ward’s article in The Times 1st May 2008 “Vengeful mothers leave good fathers powerless to see children” shows such orders are unenforceable even if you go through the months of heartache in the CAFCASS process!
    All CAFCASS serves to provide is further smoke and mirrors to distract us away from the courts failings. I have challenged both CAFCASS and CSF that if their organizations where to disband would more or less children suffer as if my experiences are typical (and world wide correspondence tell me they are) God help them!
    In his opening comments District Judge Carron sighted the new open court policy (whitewash) for bringing this matter out into the open, but as ever ( keep smoke and mirrors in mind) the last paragraph of Frances Gibb’s piece shows the true nature of this process and I quote;
    After the hearing Mr. Douglas said: “On the same day Judge Carron expressed himself, the leading Judge in the next county praised our local service. Any national organization has variations. Some of what was said in court today is inaccurate following checks afterwards we will put the record straight privately with judges.” In any other walk of life this would be regarded as corruption!

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