Clause 2 - Monitoring contact

Part of Children and Adoption Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 6:30 pm ar 14 Mawrth 2006.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright Ceidwadwyr, Rugby and Kenilworth 6:30, 14 Mawrth 2006

I want to express one concern about clause 2. I hope that the Minister will be able to deal with it because it has to do with the impact that the clause will have on CAFCASS officers, given the responsibilities to be imposed on them. My remarks have application to more than one part of the Bill, but I would not dream of extending them beyond clause 2 because I know that you, Mr. Hancock, would tell me not to. I shall confine myself to the clause and restrict my remarks accordingly.

As the Committee will note from the wording, the clause deals with the monitoring of contact and indicates that the court may ask an officer of CAFCASS or a Welsh equivalent to monitor a contact order and

“to report on such matters relating to the individual’s compliance as the court may specify in the request.”

A range of different responsibilities, some onerous and some not so, could then be imposed on a CAFCASS officer as a result of a court order under subsection (2). Indeed, during the course of the debate in the other   place, Lord Adonis was asked about the monitoring of contact orders and how intensive it would be. His response was:

“The intensity of monitoring would depend on the circumstances, but it could sometimes be as simple as a telephone call to the parties to check that contact has taken place. On other occasions it would be much more intensive, depending upon the circumstances of the case.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 12 October 2005; Vol. 674, c. GC122.]

That, of course, must be right, in that on some days monitoring would be easy and on others it would be very much harder. Certainly a degree of scrutiny would often be required of CAFCASS officers and, conceivably, over a considerable period of time. Clause 2(6) also indicates that the period of time over which CAFCASS officers would have to maintain that scrutiny could be as much as 12 months.

The problem is that because extra burdens are going to be placed on CAFCASS officers as a result of the clause, one would naturally expect that extra resources would be available to them to meet those requirements. Unfortunately, that is not the case. It is clear from paragraph 71 of the explanatory notes that the Government do not intend to give extra resources to CAFCASS to meet the extra demand. In relation, first of all, to providing information on the availability of contact activities, it states that

“it is anticipated that no net additional resources would be needed”,

and, later, that the

“same applies”— in other words, no net additional resources would be needed—

“as regards notifying courts of a breach of a contact activity or an enforcement order, since the actual monitoring of these will be carried out by those directly involved in their administration, who will in turn notify CAFCASS.”

I accept that some of the primary information gathering will not be done by CAFCASS officers, but it is clear from the clause that they will have the responsibility of reporting to the court. That is made abundantly clear in subsection (7), which states:

“It shall be the duty of the officer of the Service or Welsh family proceedings officer to comply with any requests under subsection (2).”

At the very least, the obligation on CAFCASS officers would be to write reports. As anyone who has any connection with either that service or other court-related services will know, the writing of reports is often time consuming and takes up a good deal of the time of the officers of such agencies.

I have concerns, which I invite the Minister to address, about the implications for the time and resources available to CAFCASS. We heard that CAFCASS resources will be stretched by the extra provisions in the Bill and by other responsibilities. I hope that the Minister will be able to deal with that.

Finally, the reason that I have expressed my concerns and that I suggest they are important is that the CAFCASS officer’s role is crucial. Unless the CAFCASS officer is doing his or her job in monitoring contact and picking up on where it is not happening as it should, nothing in the rest of the Bill dealing with the consequences of the failure of a party to comply with a contact order can be dealt with effectively. Those   matters depend on the information gathering of CAFCASS and on its reports being as full, and as quickly available, as they should be.

It would be profoundly undesirable, in the context of the Bill, if the monitoring was not done; it would lead to contact orders, and the various conditions attached to them, being regarded less seriously than they should be, as those involved would know that the beady eye of CAFCASS was not on them as often, or as scrupulously, as it we and CAFCASS think it ought to be.