Family justice needs wider reform

Children will benefit when fewer cases go to court and cuts to services are reversed, argues former Cafcass chair Claire Tyler

According to koodakpress، The successful turnaround of Cafcass, the once-troubled agency responsible for representing children’s interests in England’s family courts, will count for little unless the wider system is reformed, the agency’s former chair is warning.

Claire Tyler, the Liberal Democrat peer who led the Cafcass board since 2012, says the agency – the UK’s biggest employer of social workers – is one of three critical strands in the welfare of children caught up in family disputes. Attention must turn to the family justice process itself, and to children’s social care.

“We need some kind of campaign, some grouping or alliance to put a new focus on this whole issue,” says Lady Tyler, who stepped down at the end of March to be succeeded by former Conservative children’s minister Edward Timpson. “It’s something that really struggles to get anywhere at the top of the political agenda.”

Cafcass, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, has just achieved an outstanding rating from Ofsted. Set up in 2001, the agency endured a torrid early existence and, as recently as 2010, was condemned by MPs on the Commons public accounts committee as unfit for purpose.

Tyler attributes the turnaround to the consistent leadership of Anthony Douglas, Cafcass’s chief executive since 2004, who Tyler says has patiently built a strong and values-based organisation from the divided and chaotic team he inherited. “At one stage, its future looked very dodgy indeed,” she says.

But Tyler cautions that the success of Cafcass is only half the battle: the greater advance for children will come if the family justice process is reformed so that fewer cases end up in court, and if relentless cuts to children’s services are stopped and begin to be reversed.

Demand for Cafcass’s services has soared in recent years. The number of care applications it dealt with rose 31% between 2014-15 and 2016-17. The annual total appears to have peaked for now at more than 14,000 applications, but the number of private law cases has topped 40,000 a year.

Tyler, who was chief executive of relationships support charity Relate before joining Cafcass, thinks it is essential to “get upstream” of many more of these cases and seek to resolve them informally, often by drawing on the expertise of local not-for-profit groups.

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