Presidential Lapse

The President’s Interim Guidance in respect of CAFCASS will be allowed to lapse on it’s expiry on 30 September. Many will recall that the “interim” guidance, designed to deal with the crisis faced by CAFCASS at a time of escalating demand for services, was rather less temporary than had initially been envisaged.

The Guidance is said to have been successful in it’s aims, improving good practice in case management according to the Public Law Outine and cooperative working and information sharing. But it should not be forgotten that the precipitating reason for the guidance, the mischief if you will, was the inability of CAFCASS to cope with the workload being piled upon it, and its failure to provide adequate or timely services.

My recollection is that at ground level the need for the Guidance was driven by the inability of CAFCASS to appoint Guardians in public law cases and to report within a reasonable period of time. Things are most definitely better than they were during the darkest days. Guardians are now most often appointed relatively quickly. But around these yur parts it is still taking 16 weeks to obtain a s7 report, and that is if a judge can be persuaded to direct one, and if CAFCASS can be persuaded to accept the referral (they still seem to be treated as referrals rather than orders), rather than pinging the matter back to the court for referral to social services. I hope someone is evaluating the long term qualitative impacts of the use of wishes & feelings reports (or the other myriad menu options), which are often carried out by less qualified staff members, and which can present an alienating parent with the desired “answer” on a plate, in comparison to full s7 reports.

It should not be overlooked that there remain some small signs that cooperative working has not yet reached all extremities of the family justice system. The impression that I continue to be left with from my daily encounters with Guardians and CAFCASS Officers is one of chronic overwork, organisational bureaucracy, a rather dictatorial management style, a shift towards a rather defensive style of practice and away from a willingness to engage with risk issues, and continuing poor morale.

Things have improved. Have they improved enough?

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