Jacqui Gilliat on the Family Law Week Blog highlights two concerning practice developments here in her post about CAFCASS.
Firstly that CAFCASS officers in some areas are being encouraged to express a view about disputed allegations of domestic violence. In my experience some CAFCASS Officers don’t need much encouragement to do just that, but that such practice is being promoted by CAFCASS management as an expediency measure is most concerning. I have seen a preliminary report locally which appeared to do just that – reporting the results of police and statutory agency checks as fact when they were clearly disputed and had not been investigated at all. At the time I had thought it might well be an simple failure to use clarity of terminology due to pressure of time when drafting the report, but I now wonder if it was an example of what Jacqui describes. It sounds rather too close for comfort to an operating assumption that there’s no smoke without fire.
Secondly, that the new CAFCASS analysis and recommendations pro forma omits the welfare checklist. It has not gone unnoticed – frankly it’s a mystery to me why any pro forma is required in the first place. All CAFCASS officers need to do is follow the welfare checklist – that’s the statutory ‘pro forma’. The headings in the new pro forma are often not apt to the case in question (‘the child’s story so far’ being a case in point), and can be a distraction from the more important checklist. They do not promote the rigorous analysis that these cases require and deserve, but tend to result in a stream of consciousness report that is both difficult to follow (and hence ill thought through) and superficial in its analysis of the issues. The welfare checklist should be at the heart of everything CAFCASS does and that management have ‘forgotten’ to ensure it features in every report is of great concern. It’s classic fodder for cross examination and exposes CAFCASS Officers to sometimes unnecessary challenge.
The other unfortunate feature of the pro forma is that reports are often circulated to parties with ‘click here to enter text’ in an uncompleted box or with information relating to another case in a box which has not been amended as the CAFCASS Officer has proceeded through the form. Although it may not reflect reality the use of a pro forma like this tends to promote a style of working which looks like families are being provided with nothing more than a ‘cut and paste’ pro forma answer, rather than the individualised recommendation that each child deserves. It does not promote parental confidence in the ability of CAFCASS to do the job.