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Guidance on care proceedings withdrawn following criticism

Guidance launched to improve working between social workers and guardians during care proceedings has been withdrawn following criticism.

Cafcass and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services produced guidance for social workers involved in care proceedings earlier this year “to strengthen the way in which social workers, IROs and children’s guardians work together in the best interests of children who are the subject of proposed or issued public law proceedings”.

The guidance was launched after Cafcass received 12,741 care applications during 2015-2016, a 14.2 per cent rise from the same period during the previous year.

The agreement set out how local authorities and Cafcass aim to work together on assessments, care plans and pre-proceedings work to secure swift outcomes for children, young people and their families. It also recognises the distinct roles social workers and guardians play and provides a framework for resolving disputes between professionals.

“In our view, two social work agencies with the same professional standards and training should be able to agree on the evidence base on which recommendations about the future of the most vulnerable children in the country will be based,” says the guidance.

However, Nagalro has consistently challenged the guidance having raised “grave concerns” about the process in which it was produced and its content.

“Our view was that it could not be lawfully implemented and this view was supported by the excellent legal advice and guidance we have received from John Halford of Bindman's Solicitors,” said a statement from Ann Haigh and Judith Timms on behalf of Nagalro Council.

“Nagalro’s over-arching concern was that the agreement and draft guidance fettered the primary statutory functions of the Children's Guardian to such an extent that it would prevent them exercising their proper statutory functions as set out in s41 and 42 CA1989, the Family Proceedings Rules 2010 and Practice 16A Representation of Children.

“Our legal advice is that where guidance issued by a public authority - in this case Cafcass - instructs its staff to act in a manner that is unlawful, the guidance itself will be unlawful and can be challenged as such by the Courts through judicial review,” the statement said.

Indeed, talking exclusively to Children First recently, children’s guardian Sue Brookman said she did not agree with the guidance. “I don’t agree with a lot of it. Of course social workers and guardians have the same background, but we have a different job. The independence of the guardian is a key factor, that we are independent and not representing a large organisation. You need that fresh set of eyes looking at everything from the child’s perspective.”

“As a children’s guardian, I wouldn’t go into a case and come to an agreement with the parents, so why would I do that with the local authority social worker? Some cases are clear cut whereas in others there is room for a range of opinions which need exploring and explaining,” said Sue, who has worked as a guardian for over 20 years,” added Sue.

Nagalro has said it is therefore “delighted” to have received a letter from Cafcass chief executive Anthony Douglas and Andrew Webb from the ADCS formally notifying us the organisation that “they will be withdrawing the document in question”.

A statement from Cafcass and the ADCS said: “The agreement between ADCS and Cafcass about how local authorities and Cafcass can work effectively in a set of care proceedings and pre-proceedings was developed with the intention of improving the standard of social work and tackling delays in the family court.

“The document was never intended to undermine the independence of children’s guardians, nor was it intended to shut out parents or their representatives from due process within proceedings.

“Due to concerns raised by some stakeholders we took the decision to withdraw the document in question. ADCS and Cafcass regularly promote good practice throughout the social work sector and will continue to look for ways we can work effectively in the best interests of children and their families,” the guidance added.

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