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SINGLE SERVICE TO SAFEGUARD INTERESTS OF CHILDREN IN COURTS

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A single service to look after the interests of children involved in family court proceedings is to be set up, the ...
A single service to look after the interests of children involved in family court proceedings is to be set up, the government has announced.

The new Children and Family Court Advisory Service (CFCAS) will be responsible for advising judges on the most appropriate arrangements for children who are the subject of family court proceedings. Advice will be given on issues such as placing children in local authority care, applications for residence or contact, adoption, disputes about medical treatment and prohibited steps, such as preventing a child being taken abroad.

The new service will combine the family court welfare functions currently provided by the Probation Service, the children's branch of the official solicitor's department and local authority guardian ad litem and reporting officer services. Together these services submit nearly 60,000 reports to courts each year.

Although initially the new service will simply replicate those functions currently being provided by the existing services, it is possible that at a later date its remit could be extended to take on additional functions on behalf of children involved in family court proceedings and their families.

Lord Irvine, the lord chancellor, Jack Straw, the home secretary, Frank Dobson, secretary of state for health, and Alun Michael, first minister for Wales, said the government would at the earliest opportunity bring forward legislation to establish the CFCAS as a non-departmental public body (NDPB) responsible to the lord chancellor. Their decision followed an extensive consultation exercise last year.

Lord Irvine said 'The new Children and Family Court Advisory Service will bring 2000 caseworkers together. The pooling of their wide range of experience and considerable expertise will be of great benefit to the Family Courts. the new service will have the welfare of children and their families as its core responsibility. And by

placing a stronger emphasis on the professional development of the staff, the integrated service will also be in a better position to provide improved safeguards for the interests of children. In short, it will put children first.'

Jack Straw said 'I wholeheartedly welcome this initiative which puts the welfare of children firmly at the heart of family court proceedings. The family court welfare work carried out by the probation service over the past 40 years has been well regarded. I expect the new service to build on that success and to develop it

further.'

Frank Dobson said 'This is an important opportunity to build on the existing high standards of reporting in family proceedings and to give a fuller voice to children at a critical time in their lives.'

Notes

1. The Family Court Welfare Service provided by the Probation Service advises and makes recommendations to the family court. The service also helps fund contact centres where non-resident parents can spend time with their children when no alternative exists.

2. A guardian ad litem is an independent experienced and qualified child care expert appointed in a public law case to give an assessment of a child's best interests.

3. The role of the official solicitor is to provide confidential advice on particular issues of legal or moral complexity, acting as a child's solicitor at the request of the high or county court.

4. The new service will operate in England and Wales only.

5. A project team to prepare for the new service and ensure a smooth transition has been established. It includes representatives from the lord chancellor's department, the home office, the department of health and the Welsh assembly.

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