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Alliance formed to oppose changes to Children Act

Children's agencies and advisers seek to oppose change allowing CAFCASS to be named as guardian

An alliance of key children's law and support organisations has been formed to oppose changes to the Children Act, which are being proposed as part of the forthcoming Schools and Safeguarding Bill.

The Interdisciplinary Alliance for Children is calling the Government to reconsider its plans to amend s41 of the Children Act, which at present places a responsibility on the court to appoint a named guardian to represent children and their interests in care and related proceedings. The amendment would see the court appoint CAFCASS as the guardian rather than a named individual. The Alliance's view is that

“Children in care proceedings need the continuity of one guardian in whom they can develop trust to represent their interests throughout the case. Amending s. 41 would weaken the safeguards for the child and be inappropriate at a time when Cafcass is under extreme pressure and is struggling with backlogs in both public and private law proceedings.”

It would also be “premature” to amend the Act while the President has yet to review the impact of his Interim Guidance, published in July 2009, that was designed to deal with the current problems.

The Alliance is also opposing the Government's stated intention to allow the media to access written evidence and to report the substance of cases as

“The proposals undermine a key ethical principle of confidentiality underscoring the work of doctors and social workers. When talking with children professionals will have to explain to them that the media may see any resulting report.  This knowledge will affect the willingness of children to discuss fears and concerns, undermine their trust in adults and family courts and potentially leave them at risk of yet further harm.”

Unsurprisingly, CAFCASS have come out in favour of the proposed amendment to s41. Their Chief Executive, Anthony Douglas speaking to Community Care, stated that although a named guardian would always be the preferred choice, "sometimes, in teams with high volumes of new cases, duty guardians can play a vital positive role in the early stages of cases".
The organisations involved in the Alliance are as follows: