No child left behind – helping children through the family courts
The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service's (Cafcass) start was a troubled one. Established in 2001, it was created by the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 with the idea of merging the 700 probation officers who handle family court welfare work, 810 guardians ad litem who represent children's interests in child abuse and care cases, and the children's branch of the Official Solicitor's Department. These workers came from 113 groups with 57 sets of pay and conditions. Delays in the family courts system, rows over the contracts of the staff and finally the departure of the first chief executive Diane Shepherd less than a year after she was appointed meant the department got off to a rocky start. Some speculated that the organisation had had a premature birth and that an initial lack of funding made life difficult.
From rocky beginnings, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service has come up trumps and handled some of the most high-profile child-related cases. Its legal head tells Helen Mooney what it’s like to work there
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