Saturday, 31 May 2008

Striving for maturity without pain

Full Story:

Almost from birth, the service set up to represent the voice of children in the courts has been a target for attack from aggrieved parents and has suffered a troubled history since. With this years first Ofsted reports, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) has been exposed to official and independent scrutiny and found wanting. It is seven years since Cafcass was set up, bringing together 113 organisations including probation officers in family court welfare, social workers representing children in care and adoption cases, child protection agencies and welfare groups. The idea was highly acclaimed: to provide a national service handling childrens cases both public (care) and private (contact and residence disputes) and give a high and consistent standard of support in courts across England and Wales. Delays in court decisions were to be cut. But, like many new bodies in the public sector, it was set up too quickly and with inadequate funding. Merging 57 sets of pay and different working cultures proved a logistical nightmare. Within four years it had three chief executives. In the first eight months the original chief executive, Diane Shepherd, was suspended and then sacked in July 2002 over an unauthorised payment to a dismissed executive. By 2003 ministers had demanded the boards resignation amid claims that it had descended into chaos.

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