CAFCASS Chief Exec Subjected to Very Cross Examination

In a slightly maverick move District Judge Carron has enlisted the support of the media in trying to right the injustices caused by the failure of CAFCASS to keep up with demand for their services. The resulting article in today’s Times can be read here. Oh, you can raise an eyebrow at the notion of a Judge calling up the press before grilling the head honcho of the statutory body responsible for court reporting, but actually our collective brows should be raised in the direction of the extraordinary delays in allocationa nd reporting that are endemic at CAFCASS. What else is a poor champion of justice to do where orders of the court have failed, but to draft in the media? I feel for Anthony Douglass but he appears able to hold his own and appears always willing to provide photographs and quotes for anything remotely related to family justice.

.

I was particularly struck by the list of how long it is taking to complete reports. I knew there was a particular problem in our region but this is shocking:

Bristol 26-34 weeks

Basingstoke 15 weeks

Southampton 16 weeks

Aldershot 17 weeks

Bournemouth 17 weeks or more

Gloucester 20 weeks and no date now given in many cases

Portsmouth up to 22 weeks

Trowbridge 34 to 40 weeks

Earlier this week I had to explain to a client why he would have to wait until late September at the earliest for a report and that in all probability he would have to wait significantly longer as CAFCASS were likely to write requesting an extension at the last minute. In the meantime he has NO CONTACT with his son. He simply did not understand how this could be. I have also dealt with emergency protection orders, interim care orders where there is no Guardian and none expected for 6 weeks. Decisions are being made about the removal of children from their families without their interests being separately represented. Solicitors for the children do their best, but they are legal experts not experts in children per se.

.

So yes this is an unusual step for a District Judge to take (I have seen head honchos summonsed and grilled by judges before but never after an invitation to the media to watch the spectacle). And although it is not telling those of us who work in the system anything new, it IS right that systemic failures that are having such a fundamental impact on families and children should be brought to wider public attention somehow. Without this kind of judicial proactivity this issue would have been highly unlikely to have been aired.

25 thoughts on “CAFCASS Chief Exec Subjected to Very Cross Examination

  1. I have been an independent social worker and children’s guardian for nearly 30 years. The guardian / solicitor – tandem model for the representation of children in public law proceedings was a huge success and widely admired between 1985 and 2001. There were no lengthy waiting lists in those years and the service was provided more economically than it is now. Then CAFCASS started its disastrous progress and between them, CAFCASS and the LSC have progressively and deliberately undermined that previously excellent service. District Judge Carron is to be applauded for his initiative in shining the spotlight of publicity on this scandal.

  2. Not really much to add except to say Judge Carron has quite rightly been extremely clever to use the new media access laws to highlight what has always been the main problem in progressing both private and public cases.

  3. A friend of mine had to wait 42 weeks for a report (Exeter). When it arrived it had not addressed the issues as directed by the judge. I assume the CAFCASS officer had forgotten what he was asked to do.

    My friend had no interim contact with his children, the mother is implacably hostile, and he has since given up the battle in despair.

    Roger’s comment that “CAFCASS and the LSC have progressively and DELIBERATELY undermined that previously excellent service” is extraordinary. I don’t dispute it, but one can only wonder what their motive was.

    I have very little knowledge of public law, but I note that Section 37 reports have a time limit of 8 weeks (is this observed?) while s.7 reports have no time limit. I don’t know what the thinking was behind that.

  4. Commonsense Bypass

    Possible Reason: the salary and the Experience you can claim if each exalted guardianship is stretched out beyond comprehension. It’s an easy ride to an impressive CV.
    We know the Report is cut and paste the names over the last template (don’t bother about the spelling). No wonder the system is hot on confidentiality. Put those reports side by side and…hang on a minute! Each case a guardian’s blank cheque to obscure the facts from the Court, however many hundreds of thousands each debacle takes from the public purse.
    Whilst CAFCASS personnel pour their egos into their ethics vacuum, the word processing auto replace is very convenient. I know that details like facts are “irrelevant” (that’s a quote): one of my last barristers told me so. (Little things like… a CAFCASS-backed father with his hands around his child’s throat). And I know she’s right because on booking that barrister, ‘my’ solicitor told me: “she’s very good”. Sure. Stick to whatever gives the impression CAFCASS WANT so CAFCASS and it’s backers WIN. And by win I mean tear that family up. Next.

    • Whatever the difficulties at CAFCASS, I believe that frontline CAFCASS Officers are paid by fixed salary (and probably not a terribly good one) and that this is not affected by the way in which they manage a case.

  5. Commonsense Bypass

    I would find it hard to believe that a 9.5 guardian does not stand to gain financially by increasing a multiple caseload, given the numbers I have read about case allocations waiting. And ever-increasing that caseload of protracted and frankly damaging cases is easy when s/he flouts what the Court assumes s/he is doing. Further, any CAFCASS ‘Officer’ or practitioner…reporter…personnel (the titles are conveniently interchangeble) would aspire to the above by working cases in the same manner. I have lived it. I am paying for it. How objective can CAFCASS be about the existence of difficulties within its ivory tower? It may just be servicing the interests it intends to service, which has nothing whatever to do with support or families nor justice nor advice, least of all the welfare of children. Frontline. Don’t make me weep.

    • I can’t comment on your personal experience, but in general terms – as I have already said – CAFCASS Officers do not as far as I am aware get paid by the number of cases or their outcome. I believe that they are salaried, and cases are allocated by their managers. The increase in the number of cases worked by any one officer is likely to be as a result of the severe resource difficulties CAFCASS is presently faced with, in light of the significant increase in workload following Baby P. This has in fact recently resulted in the implementation of a new ‘duty’ officer based scheme to try and combat the overload and reduce backlog.

  6. Commonsense Bypass

    Like CAFCASS you demonstrate adeptness at wilfully avoiding a point, personal or in general (national) terms. Such indifference as this sidesteps the issues with CAFCASS such as where the the conflict of interests ends and the incompetence begins.

  7. James Mackinlay

    I am still in shock as i have been in court today for a final hearing that didint happen. my case has run for a long peroid mainly due to CAFCASS not able to complete there reports on time.
    4 weeks ago i contacted Caffcass to speak to my case worker , i was told he was off sick indefinatly. I took it for granted (along with my legal representation that has cost a fortune) that they would turn up at court today as requested by the courts along with the new assessment regarding my sons education.
    Can you believe my shock and horror that Cafcass must have felt my sons welfare not worthy of a replacement worker to deal with this, nor even a phone call to let everyone know not to bother going to court today. The cost of this are more than just the financial £ 1800 on my credit card for my barrister ( on top of the other £4600 paid to my solicitor total of over £6400) but even more importantly the cost of the mental and emotional stress to both my ex partner my self but most of all my ten year old son who has been completely let down by a system ment to protect him and his welfare…. UNBELIEVABLE!!!!!

    good luck to any other poor sod going through this system, i have tried and the system failed to deliver , no wonder there is fathers for justice…. where do i join 🙁

    • Oh that is terrible. I doubt there is any way of recovering your costs. If costs are wasted due to an administrative failure by the court service you can sometimes claim compensation through the HMCS or the MoJ, but I don’t think this would apply to CAFCASS. I suppose in theory you could apply for a costs order against them on the basis that they were ordered to attend and failed but I can’t imagine for a minute you’d succeed and you’d only end up wasting more money pursuing it. I’d be inclined to write them a strong letter of complaint though.

  8. Commonsense Bypass

    Writing the letter of complaint is essential.

    However, given that Mr Mackinlay (post above) empathises with the stress endured by his own child and child’s mother as well as feeling his own, I wonder how exactly f4j will give power to his case.
    Similar to the likes of CAFCASS, f4j pit themselves against one parent, maximising distress to the resident parent if necessary (i.e. undermining the child’s upbringing if it will gain leverage), using any means of foul-play such that can be available to biological parents with excess time on their hands, enabled by withheld child maintenance finances. The father’s groups write CAFCASS’s practice guidance these days. Fact.

    Family law is an industry within which children are a tool.

    Believable.

    • Well, it’s novel to attempt to draw such a comparison between CAFCASS and F4J, who are most often not lining up on the same side of the field. FNF (Families Need Fathers) have been involved in drafting guidance which they intended to be used by CAFCASS officers (I posted on this here) but as far as I’m aware this has not been adopted by CAFCASS. And from my understanding such guidance (which concerned shared residence) was intended to change what FNF felt was an approach by CAFCASS which was inconsistent with their own views on such matters. As far as I understand it F4J have not been involved in similar projects. I think that whilst there is undoubtedly some common cause between the two organisations I am sure that each would wish to distinguish their organisation from the other.

  9. Commonsense Bypass

    Such being sure is about as watertight as a CAFCASS investigation. As part of the industry, self-interest evidently displaces objectivity.

    • I’m not sure how any self interest I might have would be furthered by correcting your inaccuracy and by drawing a distinction between two fathers rights organisations. But since anything I say is evidently going to be construed as self-interest I think this is a futile dialogue which I don’t propose to continue. Seeing everything in black and white terms is what makes resolvable disputes into intractable ones.

  10. Commonsense Bypass

    Once again a confrontational demonstration of the industry-need to merge different points to whatever convenience serves the determination to be right. Black-and-white terms and resolvable disputes made intractable: that is my criticism of CAFCASS, the father’s groups and the industry.

    The forgotten pro-family voice of a nation speaks out against the exploitation in the industry, and the industry will retaliate against you and your children.

    A national children’s group says it is this mentality that puts UK children at risk all the time because the officials have to win.

    For the unsupported real parents and the children, there is no winning.

  11. I too am waiting patiently for the services of Cafcass, “services” being a understatement. They were ordered to provide a report in June for a September hearing which they immediately had moved to November. It is now 7 working days before the November hearing and I am unable to get intouch with my local office on the South Coast as all calls are being diverted to Guildford, due to the designated office being too busy to take calls. The nice lady at Guildford has told me no-one has been allocated to our case.
    Cafcass has written back to the court asking that “as both parents have written statements to the court why couldn’t the court just use those?” A very dissappointing approach as they are there to represent the views of our daughter, it is her right to see her parents, both parents. As to the statements, my spouse has stated in hers that our daughter’s headmaster does not agree with any increased contact with me as it would be too much “tooing and froing” we live 5 minutes apart (walking) both next to the school. A comment she has not backed up.
    I am expecting Cafcass to delay our hearing again at the last minute, during this time our daughter suffers, the contact she asked for when interviewed by our local child services department, a statement cafcass has in its possession, is withheld. Meanwhile my estranged spouse continues to block access, sending emails that I have never bothered with our daughter prior to our separation, even as far as going on holiday with her current partner and older daughter leaving our daughter with her friends.

    Cafcass should be made to stand up and be accountable for its service, or more parents will have to stand by and watch their children become sad and withdrawn during what is a traumatic time in their development.

    • No consolation I suppose, but you are most definitely not the only family in this boat. Maybe your case will be able to progress without a report, lets hope so. Incidentally you are very probably entitled to have a copy of any document that social services have sent to CAFCASS about your child. You could either write asking CAFCASS to disclose it, ask the court to order disclosure of it from CAFCASS or write to the Local Authority asking for a copy of it.

  12. Thank you Familoo,
    […]It would be disappointing now if no report is produced for the case as I wanted to proceed with the September date […], however I was advised against it. Now in November, still no report. Meanwhile the costs rise, Cafcass sending a lettert o the courts costs the parents money as the courts copy it to our solicitors who forward it on to us with a bill for “perusal”.

    Meanwhile my estranged spouse gains great satisfaction from my reduced contact with our daughter and Cafcass through what appears to be poor case management are inadvertantly supporting her.

    Out of interest Cafcass have said that they have contacted local child services and are awaiting a response, despite having a report. You cannot help but wonder if they have only just done so as the date is getting nearer.
    [I’ve edited the sections marked in square brackets above to preserve anonymity and to avoid breaching any rules about publication of evidence filed – familoo]

  13. you cant blame the poor cafcass staff. in every case you a re going to get an unhappy party. fnf say that the law favours the women. womens groups say that cafcass favour men. they simply cant win. added point – it is highly publised in the media that cafcass workoad has multiplied tenfold and the budget cut. whos fault is that???

  14. james mackinlay

    your right it is the governments fault for letting there be another organisation funded with public money that employs incompetant staff.. does anyone take their job seriously ?? thank you familoo for your comments..
    The government need to fund the one organisation for fathers “familys need fathers” the telephone was only mand from 6 till 10 each night , and i have to say they helped me through my darkest hours . I thank you fnf !!!it was nice to speak to someone who could relate to what i was going through and cared…

  15. hi i have read some of these horrific stories and tought i should share mine, me and my ex split up in 2009, for 5 months contact was great then the nastiness started, contact stopped with my daughters in nov 2009 i was not allowed to see them call them or even look at them as my ex had lied to police and had an harrassment warning put on me, in jan 2010 we went to court and cafcass were called in to help.
    my ex refused all contact including phone contact and cafcass backed her bearing in mind for the last two years i was the childrens sole carer as my ex owned her own business, my ex then took it upon herself to move the children to another school and area to live without my knowledge this was immediately after i gave her our home so the girls would suffer as minimum as possible, within a week the home was rented out and i only found out they were moving because the school had wished them luck at their new school in the girls school report yet again cafcass backed her up dispite me refusing to agree to them leaving their current school , my ex has not allowed my family to see the children for 18 months now as the cafcass officer has told her to keep the children away from my family cafcass denies this but i have an e mail quoting this.
    i have seen my daughters in a contact centre 7 times now in 14 months and my ex is trying to keep it there when i approached cafcass and said i cant afford the contact centre anymore as it is £54 an hour she replied well you wont see your children then and put the phone down onme i had witnesses to this as i had the call on loud speaker.
    on one of my visits to the contact centre i was pulled to one side by the cafcass officer and told that the girls had been very naughty and that something had happened with the girls and the mother, the cafcass officer told my daughters that they must not tell me what has happened.
    i also have recordings of my daughters saying that the new boyfriend had locked them in their bedrooms when i had turned up to see them back in 2009 and had broken the mobile phone i brought her because she had tried to call me ( i have the broken phone as my distressed daughter got it out of the bin and brought it round to me ), i played the recording to the cafcass officer and she turned it on me saying i had innapropriately asked questions even though my daughter spoke for nearly two minutes without interuption.
    at present i have no way of contacting my children i have no address to write to and have recieved nothing from the new school ie photo’s or reports, this particular cafcass officer has been struck off by cafcass before but taken back due to a mass exodus at the company. this is a blatent case of parent alienation which is a form of child abuse but cafcass allow it to happen as it makies their life easier to just damn one parent and give the other residency.
    me and my new fiancee are now writing to the local mp in parliament and are awaiting a response for help or guidance in this case i can only hope as this case has cost me £22.000.00 in court fees to get justice for my beautiful daughters and i have now run out of funds so need a good outcome in court in feb 2011,
    i would like to wish good luck to any of you going through this nightmare if your a mum or dad suffering this or if your just a spiteful parent researching how to hurt your childs other parent please think before you start children have the god given right to see both parents an their families all you will do is cause irreprable damage to kids and make the solicitors,barristers and judges wealthier to carry on hurting these precious commodities that we have been so very lucky to have.

  16. to all those parents out there that are being cheated by the system (and i admit they do tend to be fathers) dont give up!!! if love is your foundation then when your children are older look them in the eye and say “i never gave up” its not a perfect world we live in and children are the only chance we have of changing that, ” dont give up!” never give up. My father said “truth prevails” and i believe him… god bless the children 🙁

  17. I am trying to seek guidance related to Wasted Costs orders against CAFCASS.
    Briefly my story is [edited] CAFCASS made their report which was accurate in its observations, but concluded that [edited]. I panicked and at 2 days notice took on solicitor and council and blew the best part of £30k on proceedings. [edited] Luckinly we had a very good judge and he blew out the CAFCASS opinion completely. I’ve been through the full CAFCASS complaints procedure, and they tell me the only way to recover my money is though a Wasted Costs order, implying that these are often settled before the court date.
    I really don’t want to go to court again, but £30k is a good chunk of my retirement fund.
    Does anyone have any experience of Wasted Costs Orders against CAFCASS?

    • David, I’ve edited your post for legal reasons.

      Speaking very generally I don’t think one can get a wasted costs order against CAFCASS, who are not parties to the proceedings (even if the child is). They have a duty to give an opinion and I don’t think a party can seek to recover their costs on the basis that the court disagreed with their opinion. I don’t know why they’ve suggested a wasted costs order to you in your case, but I can’t think of any circumstances in which such a suggestion would be anything other than a red herring. Sorry.

  18. Conspiracy for the
    Abolition of
    Fathers and the
    Creation of an
    All-Powerful
    Sisterhood to run
    Society

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *