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The work of Guardians in care cases

 

One of my regular readers, Boxerdog, asked me to have a look at the CAFCASS commissioned research into the work of Guardians in care cases – it has been a bit of a week, and ordinarily this would have been much higher up my agenda.

Anyway, the report is here :-

https://www.cafcass.gov.uk/media/174659/sdcrvnafil008/caf_home$/rcafPRiordan/My%20Documents/Documents%20for%20the%20internet/FINAL_VERSION_Cafcass_-_The_work_of_children%27s_guardians_in_care_cases.pdf

 

The report sets out to answer two questions

1. What work was undertaken by Guardians?

2. When in the proceedings did that work take place?

 

So the fact that the research isn’t particularly helpful is the fault of the persons framing those parameters and questions, rather than flaws with the research itself.  I don’t think many people’s big unanswered questions with CAFCASS were these, but more about were they a genuine check and balance to the State, were they genuinely representing the voice of the child and looking at things in the round rather than the focus on “safeguarding” which seems to have crept in, was their work considered helpful and useful by other (shuddering at the word) stakeholders in the process – the children, the parents, the Judges?

 

But anyway, those are the questions we got. The answer to the second is “Mostly at the beginning” and in the first three months, chiefly.  Of course, most of the really important stuff in care proceedings is happening at the end, as assessments are completed, decisions are being made and the views of children about the range of options for their future is being gathered, so some might think that the balance here is a bit askew.  As a counterpoint to that, the meeting of the parents and relatives, reading the court papers, deciding on an expert and questions, and reading the social work files (ha!) all happens at the beginning, so I am perhaps being slightly unfair.  It depends whether the ‘front-loading’ means  “More at the front, but quite a bit all the way through”  or “almost all at the front and very little thereafter”

 

The report shows that CAFCASS met with the parents in 90% of care cases  (giving the benefit of the doubt, there ARE SOME parents who don’t involve themselves in any point in the proceedings, think 10% is rather high estimate of that) and met with/observed the children in 95% of care cases

 

Contact with the child
: the guardian had contact with the child in 95 per cent of cases. Four of the five cases in which there was no contact had some features in common, notably previous proceedings in respect of older children and the child being 0 years of age. In the fifth case the court found that the significant harm threshold was not met. The mean number of contacts per case was three, and the range was 0- 13 contacts. The type of contact was influenced by the age of the child. Thus, the guardian met with the child in 33 per cent of cases, but in every case where the child was aged 12 or older. Fifty seven per cent of children in the sample were aged four or under, the guardian observing children in this age group, in the presence of a parent, carer of foster carer, in 92 per cent of cases. There was telephone contact between the guardian and the child in nine per cent of cases
Not blaming individual workers for this, it is a shift in our times and the organisational priorities and how workloads are managed. But when I started, if a Guardian had visited the child 3 times during the course of the proceedings, they would have been SLAUGHTERED in the witness box. I remember on rare occasions seeing a Guardian ad Litem (as they then were) get completely taken to the cleaners for having made just 3 visits.  And that was in the days when care proceedings were shorter  (yes, before we had all of the protocols and PLOs to reduce the duration of care proceedings, they were actually quicker than 55 weeks) and more pertinently, before the Human Rights Act and article 8 was at the forefront of our minds.
What the report doesn’t look at, of course, is whether that contact is sufficient for the purpose of representing the child and being their voice in proceedings. As we diminish the role of independent experts in the court process (by a combination of cutting their fees until they don’t want to do it, and raising the bar on getting permission from the Court to instruct them), a good, solid, robust, inquiring and genuinely independent Guardian with no axe to grind other than “what does this child want, and what is best for them?” becomes a vital check and balance to the State, and this low-level of input doesn’t always provide for that.
Not the fault of individual Guardians – there are damn good ones who are very committed and work very hard, and rightly pull Local Authorities up on bad practice or decisions or unfairness, but the organisation s a whole decided to try to manage the increased volume and workloads by spreading the individual Guardians more thinly, and that has had profound knock-on repurcussions.
Back when I started, if you had a new baby born and there had been previous proceedings on a brother or sister, the first thing anyone would read from the old papers would be the Guardians report, which would tell you everything you needed to know, it would set the scene and give you all of the story of what had happened in the case. (you might agree with the final recommendation, you might disagree with it, but the report would tell you the story). I haven’t started with the Guardian’s report for many years now.

 

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About suesspiciousminds

Law geek, local authority care hack, fascinated by words and quirky information; deeply committed to cheesecake and beer.

11 responses

  1. From the blind leading the blind to the foxes running the hen-house.

    I must say with some disdain that in over two decades of family law advocacy I’ve yet to see a single Guardian earning his/her keep by being OBJECTIVE – actually doing his/her job properly in promoting the child’s welfare INSTEAD of strangling the child’s voice by blatantly cheer-leading the local authority.

    • Ashamedtobebritish

      I agree, in my experience there’s far too much copy & paste from the sw’s findings, rather than they’re own
      Not once have I heard how a guardian has visited regularly to sum up the situation between individuals and the child, it’s usually one parent or the other, more often it’s neither. How does the court accept on cross examination of the guardian, when he/she is asked “have you ever met this person ?” And they reply “no”, that their report is valid and independent?
      One guardian I came across a year ago, visited the home of the parent without the child when I was present, she was excellent at her job and certainly had the child’s welfare at the forefront, however, she had never seen the child at home in the natural environment with the parent, this frustrated her somewhat and she soon left the profession.
      Guardians should never be allowed to submit a report to a court unless they have seen the child at least fortnightly, this said on the basis of them being unable to provide the facts, it’s all hearsay.
      What we do not need in court is any more statement of fact from guardians who are actually leaning on the opinion of someone else, who is quite often anti that parent. Cut out the middle man and put the sw on the stand if this is the case! (Why pay more?)
      Guardians rarely listen to the child, even though they’re meant to be the ones conveying it to the court, in reality they are overpaid cheerleaders for the winning team … So unprofessional and definitely not ethical.
      Who needs yet another ‘expert witness’ who has seen no -one, knows nothing, alongside psychologists and the rest of the mix, to stand up and state their version of unseen and unheard circumstances

  2. I am not sure if I can comment as I have not read the report and cannot probably for sometime as I am deep in reports in immigration cases, however I am sure Chris Rivers will have some pertinent comments.

    But the guardian service, something very precious has been lost. Half of me was a panrel manager between 1992 and 1997 and between 2003 and 2012 I was an SEC. So I saw the best (pre CAFCASS) and dipped my foot in practice at a time when it was beginning to lose its purpose, probity and professionalism and became under Anthony Douglas an organisation not fit for purpose. Those of us who saw it as independent and crucial in order to get the best decision for children – and the best way to cut down the need for expensive ‘experts’.- can only cry at what it has become. In those halcyon days the guardian’s report was the first one everybody read! And yest I know there were some guardians who thought they sat next to god but most were jobbing social workers like me who recognised and praised good social work in our reports.
    I worked in local authorities for many years and from my time as a baby social worker to the crone/wise woman (delete at your choice) I am now I have referred to social work as “an entrepreneurial activity placed in a bureaucratic setting”. As a manager in local authorities I fought the bureaucracy but working as a SEC I found in the end it had become the sole reason for CAFCASS’ existence, it is not about children or families (apart from the ‘comic cuts’ logos), it is not about practice and it certainly isn’t about Article 8.

  3. Reblogged this on melinxc and commented:
    A helpful piece on the work of Cafcass in Care proceedings. Including observations on how the role has changed over the years.

  4. Pingback: The work of Guardians in care cases | Children ...

  5. Hi

    I can verify the work of a guardian is not of true in what they are supposed to do. What does one parent do when the guardian does the following:

    Wage war against the parent. Don’t meet with all the relatives of the child. Ask the mother why she isn’t in a relationship. Interrogate the child. Make it lies against the mother in her reports.

    What in these cases does the mother do? She hasn’t a leg to stand on when a guardian judges the parent.

    Also what age can a child enter the witness box in UK and Northern Ireland courts?

    AM

  6. I haven’t yet read the report however, speaking as an ‘expensive expert’ it is important to point out that the vast majority of children in care proceedings are in that position due to concerns about the experiences they have had in their childhood. These experiences inevitably have an effect on them, often making the child guarded, withdrawn, anxious or hyper-alert and somewhat frantic (another way of expressing anxiety). Some children have developmental delays, undiagnosed developmental disorders(ASD, Dyspraxia and ADHD are the ones I most commonly encounter) which affect how capable they are of communicating. Many children in care proceedings are communicating their feelings and wishes powerfully but non-verbally, through ‘disturbed’ behaviour and if there is any hope of accurately translating their behaviours and getting them to a point where they can verbally communicate what they think and feel about an emotionally complex and ‘abstract’ situation such as being subject to care proceedings, the child often does (or did) require an ‘expensive expert’ who has the training and experience to analyse what the child is communicating verbally, non-verbally, at home, at school, in foster care, in contact with parents, and to put that before the Court.

    It may be that some children can express themselves adequately to the Guardian, even within the constraints of very limited contact with the child, but the ones that can’t are arguably the ones in most trouble and the ones that most need help to get their message across, and if that message doesn’t get across it is hard to see how workable placements and therapy can be set up for those children (another key role where the Guardian is supposed to advise).

    I would be fascinated to hear the views of any Guardians on the above because my experience is that Guardians are being placed under huge pressure by the current zeitgeist, not to support applications for expert assessment of children (or parents) – do CAFCASS really feel they can do what is necessary to represent these very troubled children within the current constraints?

  7. just had a local authority section 37 report and core assessments sent back to be redone along with guardian assessments agreeing with the la when neither agency had even met the father, the child had been seen once by guardian and the reasons for the section 37 being ordered were wrong…. egg on their faces yet i had told them before entering court they were wrong…seems any analysis of cafcass actions are partial since this case was as the judge had said screaming out…….

  8. Philip Measures

    Over the past 5 years CAFCASS has lost over 40% of its workforce (and I guess that many of those will be experienced Guardians) – a deeply alarming figure and we know that it is an unhappy Organisation to work for.

    I too remember the extremely pro-active involvements of Guardians and now that in adoption cases especially detailed analysis needs to be given of ALL the options I would have thought that there was an increased role for them.

    I am also deeply troubled with the dual role of Anthony Douglas as CEO of CAFCASS but also Chair of BAAF – there just has to be a potential conflict of roles. The drive for self-publicity is also worrying – any analyses need to be truly independent so I was pleased that they did not win any of the just announced Social Work Awards,

  9. Dear Suesspiciousminds. Thank you for spending some time on this piece of “research”, which I regard as flimsy and unfocussed, without the qualitative evidence provided by service users, lawyers and judges who can say whether the work of the Guardian has been useful and helpful to the courts and themselves in presenting a case.

    I also detect an element of PR in this research, with Cafcass trying to promote themselves as a child focussed organisation. Cafcass has been criticised for losing this child centred approach due to the prevailing conditions and culture of Cafcass today.

    The “research”, makes the point throughout its questions, that there is more likely to be an under-reporting of purposeful contact with service users and other professionals. Cafcass moved to an Electronic Case File for case recording which is policed extremely stringently by Cafcass managers. I have known Cafcass practitioners thrown into disciplinary procedures for failing to record accurately and in a timely manner, generally due to overwork.

    Even by his method of accounting Cafcass practitioners very rarely have regular and ongoing contact with children, young people and adult service users, during the life of a case.

    Mr Douglas CEO of Cafcass was made to answer questions in front of the Justice Select Committee on Tuesday 22 March 2011

    “Anthony will answer the question about the staffing levels.

    Anthony Douglas: If I may, because I think several questions refer to that. 91.5% of our staff are front line. 61% are family court advisers, children’s guardians, practitioners in private law cases. 4.5% are family support workers. As Martha said, they do carry out some pretty effective wishes and feelings work with children. Their backgrounds are diverse and they have sometimes 10 or 20 years working with children in different settings and sectors.

    9% of our staff are front-line managers. 17% of our staff are front-line business support staff. They talk to people using our service.

    Q261 Chair: I am afraid I am slightly puzzled by the addition of the words “front line” to each category of staff.

    Anthony Douglas: They are defined by our Secretary of State. Certainly our business support staff, our first line managers as well as practitioners, are defined as front line, and we are following, of course, Cabinet Office guidelines about recruitment at the moment. They are, if you like, officially defined, and they are, front line.

    Q262 Claire Perry: What percentage of your staff actually spend the majority of their time working with children?

    Anthony Douglas: About 65%”.

    Q263 Claire Perry: So 65% are actually what we would think of as front line, as in out there actually blocking and tackling with the children.

    Anthony Douglas: Yes.

    Now I know that this was a dishonest reply as I was working at Cafcass at the time. I was a Family Support Worker and we were the only group of staff who saw children and families regularly. Whether it was undertaking Wishes and Feelings reports with children and young people or undertaking Family Assistance Orders with parents in Private Law proceedings we were the only group undertaking this work on a regular basis. Mr Douglas made 50+ FSW’s redundant in 2012 leading to a loss of over 2000 man hours per week in direct work with children, young people and adult service users. Despite the fact that I have tried to ask Cafcass how these additional hours have been absorbed, they refuse to give me an answer.

    Cafcass has much to hide…..and it will take much more than this piece of flim-flam to restore their reputation.

  10. ‘Boxerdog’ is correct – throughout a number of Freedom of Information requests CAFCASS has proven unable to identify what direct work is undertaken with children and young people and by whom. It also assured the Select Committee that it carried out Exit Interviews with staff to obtain information to help it improve – but then admitted in a subsequent FOI response that it did not know the results of those interviews as it was only on individual workers files – so Anthony Douglas again lied to the Select Committee because if you don’t collate and analyse the information you may as well not even carry out the process and you most certainly can’t learn from it.

    They have an expensive computerised system which they seem to choose to not use properly – and that may be deliberate because by not recording some essential information you cannot then be accused of being untruthful because you can’t produce the evidence! – staggeringly incompetent and indicative of an Organisation that is just not fit for purpose.

    I hope that the Ministry of Justice will look long and hard at how CAFCASS operates and start to really hold it to account – the present shambles must cease.

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