Family court body review 'needed'
The body that looks after the interests of children involved in family court proceedings in England is lurching from "crisis to crisis", a union says.
It said the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) was too bogged down in bureaucracy.
Family court staff union Napo told the National Audit Office the service needed to be reviewed.
But Cafcass's chief executive said he was proud of the way his staff had responded to a huge increase in cases.
Anthony Douglas said changes in the way the service worked "have allowed us to make a difference to the lives of more vulnerable children in our society than ever before".
The union made its comments as it presented evidence to the National Audit Office (NAO), which is currently examining Cafcass's performance.
Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of Napo, said: "Cafcass has moved in a short period of 10 years from a 'golden age' to a bureaucratic nightmare, offering a poor service where there is no longer a sense of children coming first.
"Huge amounts of time and energy have been taken up with Ofsted inspections and quality improvement investigations which have sought to drive up practice but have resulted in staff spending more and more time preparing for inspections and filling in forms at the expense of work with families.
He urged the new coalition government to carry out an urgent review of its effectiveness.
But Mr Douglas said there had been changes in the way staff work at Cafcass to keep pace with a 30% increase in work over the past year.
He said: "This has placed all of us in the family justice system under strain but has positively led to many more children at risk being identified and getting the help they need.
"The new ways of working, which include the duty schemes and have been agreed with the judiciary, have allowed us to make a difference to the lives of more vulnerable children in our society than ever before."
Mr Douglas said he was proud of his staff who were working on more than 2,000 cases in May 2010 than in July 2009. He said his staff had halved backlogs in the last year.
The NAO report is expected to be completed later this year.