The Chief Execs of CAFCASS and CAFCASS CYMRU have issued the snappily titled : GUIDANCE FROM THE CHIEF EXECUTIVES OF CAFCASS AND CAFCASS CYMRU ABOUT CHANGES IN USE OF CAFCASS PROFESSIONAL TIME TO BRING MOST BENEFIT TO CHILDREN WITHIN THE RESOURCES AVAILABLE (AKA We're doing our best, alright?*)
*I added that bit.
It was published here on 2 Jun via Family Law (Jordans). Which is odd because it appears to be a consultation, which closed on 1 Jun. Perhaps it has been internally circulated before its public outing on the Jordans website, who knows. I guess external stakeholders views weren't wanted.
So, what does it say? Well, I confess I don't understand a word of it. But it makes me a little twitchy. I've had to put some soothing flowers at the top of the post to calm me down...
I do get that it is a document prompted by the combination of limited resources and an ever-climbing workload (clue in title). We've seen such documents before from CAFCASS. Remember the time when CAFCASS ran out of Guardians, the interim guidance to deal with the temporary crisis in 2011? The menu of options for s7 "lite"? Remember "proportionate working" in the operating framework in 2014? See here for posts on Pink Tape about CAFCASS over the years if that is all a distant hazy memory to you, and this post in particular which links to the interim guidance and the menus.
It is an attempt to answer the question of how CAFCASS can do more with less. I sympathise with them. But this document is really worrying, not least for its complete lack of clarity (is it a draft, a consultation?), and ambiguity of scope (does it apply to pilot areas mentioned or everywhere? when does it come into effect?). And does it supercede the operating framework?
For a document that starts by saying the emphasis on flexibility it is strikingly restrictive in its interpretation of how CAFCASS Resource should be used.
It seems to say that CAFCASS officers should pretty much never be at court unless its a FHDRA or they are required for cross examination. Here is the actual wording :
...we think that social workers should attend court either to give evidence, when their evidence is critical to decision-making, or to hear evidence that is essential for them to hear if they are to be able to carry out their own work and to make effective recommendations to courts.
We do not expect social workers to be sitting through lengthy hearings of any description, unless there are exceptional reasons for so doing. We ask you to pay special attention to this point.
In public law cases, the child’s legal solicitor or barrister will still be able to attend every hearing, having taken instructions from the guardian who will remain accessible by phone to the solicitor or barrister in the usual way.
I'm not sure that this is supportive of guardians being present at all hearings in care cases, which in my view they should be - unless specifically excused. Although pa 6.5 PD16A requires :
The children's guardian or the solicitor appointed under section 41(3) of the 1989 Act or in accordance with paragraph 6.2(a) must attend all directions hearings unless the court directs otherwise.
it is usual for a guardian to specifically seek permission not to attend even if their solicitor is present. For good reason. It is already a known phenomenon for conscientious guardians to furtively suggest that the court might wish to order them to attend so that they may be present at a hearing or to hear the evidence of the parents where they consider it necessary - in order that they can do so without being reprimanded. This can only get worse.
In private law we are told of the invention of a new form of s7 lite. Although I think 7 Zero would have been a better rebrand, they've gone with the rather less obvious "Child Impact Analysis". This comes with its own template containing 5 generic headings and no reference to the welfare checklist. The irony of course is that if the analysis is not set out with reference to the law, a party is far more likely to require the officer to come to court to give evidence in order to explain their analysis. So possibly not such a genius way to free up the time of a CAFCASS Officer. Unless the success of this wheeze is predicated on the assumption a LiP won't know to ask for the officer to attend for cross examination.
The guidance says :
The work of Cafcass and Cafcass Cymru after the first hearing [in private law] will be streamlined and re-focussed, so this is the area of work we propose should be subject to most change.
Cafcass and Cafcass Cymru plan to deliver more defined interventions in cases going beyond the first hearing than the traditional section 7 report and they intend to pilot new child impact reports for 3-6 months in Essex, York and North Yorkshire and South West Wales.
The threshold for asking Cafcass/Cafcass Cymru to carry out work beyond the first hearing should be a concern about significant child impact, not the fact that the parental dispute is continuing in court.
Whether this means there will be any change outside of the pilot areas is anyone's guess. And quite what the last sentence actually MEANS is beyond me. What is a "significant child impact" and exactly which cases don't involve one?
There is talk of "brief interventions" and "brief child-focussed casework". I think this means CAFCASS will go back to doing some actual hands on social working - not a lot, but a little (as Paul Daniels would have said). The stuff that used to be done by the FSWs that were made redundant some years ago. The stuff that CAFCASS have been telling us isn't their job for some years now (oh no, we just write reports). I welcome this, if it means what I think it means (working with instead of reporting on families - facilitating reintroductions, life story etc).
There is also mention of "local arrangements" and "hotline arrangements" (which apparently exist in Wales) so that CAFCASS can "[act] in a social work advisor role to court, as the social work equivalent of legal advisors." Nope, me neither. Does this mean they'll rock up and make a recommendation on the hoof? By phone? With or without the parties present? With or without them being able to ask questions (on the hoof) (without a lawyer)? *twitch...twitch*
In public law we're likely it seems to get one rather than two analyses from a guardian. In truth this is beginning to be the norm anyway, but there is a significant benefit in many cases in an early analysis for which a position statement is just not a substitute. Such analyses can materially affect the whole direction of travel of a care case (including whether or not there is an interim removal). Coupled with the fact that a Guardian is now unlikely I think to even be at court at a CMH, this is worrying indeed. So much happens at those early hearings, so much information is elicited whilst at court - a Guardian should be AT court liaising with social workers and asking questions and rolling up their sleeves, not receiving the potted highlights from their solicitor some hours later.
Anyway, there you go. That's my initial impact analysis - there will be a significant impact, I just don't know quite what it will be. Things are changing. Or possibly just coming full circle.... *helpful face*
I sympathise with CAFCASS, like any other public service struggling to manage with inadequate funding but I do wish they'd drop the jargon and speak English.
Watch this space.
And send me explanations if it makes sense to you...