Lord Falconer asks 'chaotic' child court board to resign over service failures

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The Independent Online

Ministers demanded the resignation of the entire board of an official child protection agency yesterday amid claims that it had descended into "chaos".

The Child and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) was set up two years ago to protect and advise on the rights of children during court proceedings.

But a report earlier this year by the Commons Constitutional Affairs Committee found there were "serious failings" in the organisation which was unable to cope with the demand for its services.

The Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, has now written asking the board to stand down so that Cafcass can make a fresh start.

A Government spokesman said: "We are determined that Cafcass will act as a more effective champion for children involved in family proceedings. Steps are being taken to appoint a new chairman and board." The chairman of the Constitutional Affairs Committee, Liberal Democrat MP Alan Beith, said that their inquiry had found an organisation in a state of disarray.

"It was manifestly failing to provide children's guardians which used to be provided within 24 hours of a case arising," he told the BBC Radio 4 PM programme.

"The organisation was really in chaos despite the efforts of frontline staff to keep it going." He said that Cafcass had not even begun the support service work it was supposed to be doing and had failed to put in place the proper training for its staff.

It had also had a "chaotic problem" with its self-employed guardians, which led to the dispute going to judicial review. Following the committee's report, the children's minister Margaret Hodge announced an independent review of its work under Sir Clive Booth.

* A 22-month-old boy drowned after falling into his family's swimming pool despite being alone for just a matter of seconds, an inquest heard today. George Jeffery climbed into the mobile pool at his grandparent's home in Cuxton, near Rochester, Kent, after he wandered into the garden on a hot evening in August this year.

The family, including George's mother Cara, carried out a desperate search for the toddler after they realised he was missing a few minutes later.

They failed to spot him in the pool at first because the water was cloudy due to fresh chemicals being added two days earlier.

He was eventually found by his grandfather Brian Jeffery and taken by ambulance to Medway Maritime Hospital. He was pronounced dead on arrival.

Mr Jeffery, 45, told the inquest: "George must have been trying to get one of his toys." Coroner Roger Sykes recorded a verdict of accidental death.