'What does it mean for us?' covers the findings and key issues arising from an inspection of four guardians ad litem, covering 29 local authorities, in 1994/95.
Guardians ad litem are appointed by the courts to look after the interests of children. Their work includes appointing a solicitor to represent a child, advising the child, making investigations on behalf of the child and advising the court on the level of a child's understanding and the child's wishes.
The report found that the principles of the 1989 Children Act were soundly embedded in the policies and procedures in the four areas. The good practice and other issues in the report will have relevance for all panels, local authority social services departments and for the courts for whom guardians ad litem provide services.
- work was achieved within prescribed timescales;
- the guardians ad litem were skilled and competent;
- the appraisal arrangements for the guardians ad litem were effective and designed to improve the quality of the GALRO service, but also to identify areas of developmental need for individual guardians ad litem;
- panels were competently managed.
Further work was needed in the following areas:
- the use of research evidence and expert witnesses in the court setting;
- work planning;
- consistency in writing court reports so that all relevant information can be presented to courts in a systematic way;
- the retention and storage of records obtained during the course of a guardians ad litem inquiry.
The provision of the GALRO service is a responsibility vested in local authorities by virtue of the Guardians Ad Litem and Reporting Officers (Panels) Regulations 1991.
The duties and responsibilities of the guardians ad litem themselves are set out in the Family Proceedings Courts (Children Act 1989) Rules 1991, and in the Adoption Rules 1984.
At 31 March 1995, there were 54 panels covering England: 37 single metropolitan counties; four single metropolitan districts; 11 consortia of metropolitan districts and metropolitan counties; and two consortia of London boroughs.
Four panels were entirely operated by voluntary child care organisations on behalf of local authorities and a further two were partially run by a voluntary child care organisation.