CAFCASS DATA

I made some Freedom of Information Act requests recently to see if some hunches I had about CAFCASS were good. They don't completely answer that question but I thought I'd share with you anyway. A request about the number of contact monitoring orders was declined as they didn't have the data in accessible format, but below you can see charts showing the number of Family Assistance Orders, appointments of private law guardians and of Contact Activity Directions / Orders made.

As anticipated there has been a decline in FAOs, although not to a great deal lower than in previous years, prior to a 2011 spike. Again, unsurprisingly the number of private law guardians has been on the up for a while, and the number of CAD / CACs has become better established since their inception a few years ago. 

This information only takes us so far. A better figure would be the proportion of private law cases in which a private law guardian was appointed or FAO made. We do know though that in the year Apr 2012 to Mar 2013 the number of private law applications (on CAFCASS data) was up 10% on the previous year. Although our figures are based on calendar rather than financial years so the overlap is not exact, it seems highly likely that the proportion of private law cases in which a FAO has been made has dropped markedly. MoJ figures tell us there was a 4% increase in private law applications between 2011 and 2012, which tends to confirm this hypothesis. So whilst the trend in respect of appointment of Guardians appears to be in the same direction as the trend in the number of cases, the trend with FAOs is the reverse.

This may be connected to shifting views about the role of private law guardians and the redundancy of FSWs in CAFCASS. The CAFCASS Guidance on FAOs is quite restrictive in terms of its view of FAOs. My general experience is that fewer guardians are prepared to accept that their role includes any sort of facilitation of contact or direct work with the family, and FAOs are no longer available in because CAFCASS say they don't have the resources.

The statutory obligations of CAFCASS to “make provision for the performance of any functions conferred on officers of the Service by virtue of this Act or any other enactment” (Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 s 12(2)) of course remains unchanged.

I wonder, what are other people's experience of this? And what do we think will happen to these trends post LASPO?

Frontline cuts in Cafcass……just one big question to answer

This is a guest blog post written by Ian Merry. Ian is a qualified and registered social worker who washed up on Cafcass' shore in 2007 as a Family Support Worker in the Newcastle upon Tyne region. Prior to this he worked with vulnerable children and young people for over 37 years. Ian found the direct work with service users in Private Law to be challenging, demanding and exacting, particularly interviewing children to elicit and present to court their wishes and feelings about the issues that directly affect them.

Frontline cuts in Cafcass……just one big question to answer

I wish to thank Mr Philip Measures and Mr Tony Ryan for framing pertinent FOI questions regarding FSW’s and Cafcass.

You may not know that 55 Family Support Workers, (FSW’s), have been made redundant in Cafcass, nationally in March 2012, with a reduction of 2035 man hours lost per week in direct work, with no clear indication as to who is going to take up this shortfall in direct work with children and families in Private Law matters , post redundancy.

A parlous situation indeed.

You may know that Cafcass Family Support Workers were recruited to undertake direct work in Private law proceedings. Working with qualified Cafcass Family Court Advisers,  FSW’s undertook Wishes and Feelings exercises with children and young people, Level 2 Supervised and Reported Contacts, Family Assistance Orders, and other beneficial approaches like Family Group Conferences and Children First.

They became experts in Cafcass in direct work with children and their work was much recognised and praised by the magistracy, judiciary, and other stakeholders like Ofsted, over a period of 5 years.

The following e-mail was the first intimation of impending redundancy for most Cafcass FSW’s, sent notifying significant people of the plan to delete over 50 FSW posts nationally, in 2012.

Date: Fri, 20 Jan 2012 11:05:15

Subject: FSWs

Dear colleagues

Further to discussions at the Strategic Partnership meeting on 18 January 2012, I am writing to confirm the following:

•         We currently have 80fte Family Support Worker roles;

•         We are proposing to delete at least 50 of these roles and will be looking to retain 30 FSWs, subject to budgetary provision in the local areas;   

•         The 30 posts we are looking to retain will be on the basis where staff have either qualified, part qualified or are about to begin the social work degree.

•         Heads of Service will begin discussions with FSWs in the next week and a formal at risk letter, for eligible staff, will be sent next week;

•         We have made it clear in the letter that FSWs are encouraged to discuss any concerns/issues with Local Managers, HR and Trade Unions (where they are members);

•         We will work with colleagues on redeployment across Cafcass and the wider Civil Service;

•         The proposed termination of employment on grounds of redundancy will be 31 March 2012 (or from a date to be agreed locally between Heads of Service and FSWs based on local service needs);

•         We are also running a voluntary early retirement and severance programme alongside this process.

We will keep you updated and if you have any questions,  please do let me know.

Thanks,

Jabbar          Jabbar Sardar Director of HR and Organisational Development Cafcass

Under government spending  constraints  all Quangos had to make considerable efficiency savings year on year and after the first round of redundancies considered in 2010, how did the Cafcass Executive arrive at their plan to balance the 2012/13 budget, and how did the Cafcass Board endorse this? and who is going to take up the work of 55 full time FSW’s??

A disturbing feature of this situation surrounds the formulation and presentation of the need to make any frontline services redundant, by the Cafcass Executive to the Cafcass Board for consideration, where the livelihoods of 55 FSW’s are considered in a seemingly disrespectful manner, becomes a visibly unedifying spectacle.

FOI 567 request tell us that…..

"The Board discussed a proposal for savings at an informal seminar on 08 December 2011 when the CEO raised the issue of the need to make savings to balance the 2012/13 budget. Formal Cafcass business is not usually discussed at Board seminars or if it is raised, it is usually then added to the Board's agenda by way of any other business at the following day's Board meeting so that the discussion can be minuted.

Unfortunately due to an oversight this was not done on this occasion, so the minutes of  the Board's meeting on 9 December do not contain a record of the discussion.

The attached is a record of the discussion 08 December 2011 –

The CEO gave a presentation to the Board at its seminar in which he put forward a savings programme which had been scoped by the Corporate Management Team to reach the savings total required whilst minimising the negative impact on service delivery. Members discussed the issues raised, including the pros and cons of deleting circa 50 Family Support Worker posts and concluded by endorsing the CEO's proposal for savings".

A number of further questions arise out of these revelations.

  • Why was the issue of redundancies up for discussion at an informal seminar on the 8th of December 2011 even though there’s a full Board Meeting the next day, the 9th of December 2011.
  • Why were no minutes taken at the seminar, considering that someone would have possessed writing materials at a seminar.
  • I have requested a copy of the CEO’s presentation to the Board and am awaiting sight of this.
  • Why was there no reference to the decision to make 55 staff redundant in the minutes of the formal Board meeting of the 9th of December.
  • Why no news item or press release concerning these redundancies.

Is this how things are done in Cafcass these days?

As a result of this distinct lack of useful information concerning these matters being readily available from Cafcass a further number of FOI questions were put to them

In answer to FOI questions dated 13th February 2012 ref CAF 523 below:

“1 Can  I  have  a  copy  of  the  management  plan  to  select  those  earmarked  for redundancy together with any other relevant information regarding this action?

Cafcass are deleting Family Support Worker (FSW) posts as our service is changing more into a Family Court advisor (FCA)-based service, in which all practitioners need to be able to produce a strong case analysis as early in the court process as possible, in both public and private law cases.

Direct work in private law cases will need to be undertaken on the whole by commissioned services. The budget for those services is a separate budget from Government and that is being maintained next year”.

2 Why is this necessary?

Up to 55 FSW posts will be deleted from 1 April 2012, as part of a savings package of £2.5 million, which is the minimum amount we must save if we are to balance our budget next year (2012/13). Around 25 FSW’s will be retained. Our savings packages in past years have been able to avoid cutting into front line posts.

3 Who is going to take up their direct work with children?

In the future, support for children and their parent/s in private law cases will primarily come from commissioned services. FCA’s will advise courts about the suitability and availability of these services locally in individual cases.

4 Have any managers taken a pay cut in order to prevent reductions in frontline staff?

Over the past three years, all the savings have been made from corporate functions or deletion of management roles. These are now at minimum staffing levels in all Cafcass functions, so there are no more large numbers of back room posts we can safely delete.

Despite political and organisational pledges to protect frontline services, here we appear to have one axed without a murmur.

However on we go…..in answer to a further FOI request regarding the stated transfer of work from FSW’s to external providers which appeared to be the case on the 13th of February Cafcass now  says on the 2nd April 2012 ref:  JJ/CAF 544:

“There will be no outsourcing. There is no TUPE situation as the work is not being outsourced. Cafcass will save £1.6m from 54 posts”.

So where is the work going to go?….we’re talking about 2035 man hours a week which I know were fully used…..and more.

In answer to FOI request reference number 2012/0029300 on 31-05-2012 DfE gives the following figures for the budgets set for externally commissioned services from 2007 onwards:

“I am also reproducing here the headline figures held by the Department since 2007 as per your request”:

•             2012/13 – Cafcass budget is £127.4mn. In addition Cafcass will receive £1.9m for contact services.

•             2011/12 – Cafcass budget was £130mn of which £3.4mn was spent on contact services.

•             2010/11 – Cafcass budget was £143.4mn of which £3.4mn was spent on contact services.

•             2009/10 – Cafcass budget was £131.2mn of which £3.4mn was spent on contact services.

•             2008/09 – Cafcass budget was £113.9mn of which £3.4mn was spent on contact services.

•             2007/08 – Cafcass budget was £107mn of which £2.5mn was spent on contact services.

As the figures state the budget has been £3.4mn for the last 4 years but now with all the additional work externally commissioned services will have to do in 2012/13, they will have to do this with a major reduction in funds down to £1.9mn for this year….almost halved….how does that work??

Well the common sense answer is that it doesn’t work, but then neither does this current situation where a definitive answer is still needed as to how the work of 55 full time practitioners in direct work is going to be absorbed by Cafcass without any increase in resources internally or externally and without reducing services to service users or causing further delay……over to you Mr Douglas.

All FOI information can be checked on the “What Do They Know” Website and great respect to them for providing a genuinely useful public service.

Open letter to CAFCASS

"An open letter in respect of my resignation from Cafcass

26 September 2011

Dear  …………………,

I have long had my doubts as to whether Cafcass as an organisation is fit for purposeI have been critical of the honesty and integrity of the management of the service, things that continue to concern me.  I have to agree with the many individuals and organisations who have concluded that the problems of Cafcass are so manifold and entrenched   that any satisfactory solution requires a complete transformation.

This has, inevitably created tensions in my employment, particularly as Cafcass has become increasingly prescriptive in the way in which it requires its advisors to work.  The emergence and consolidation within Cafcass of a ‘compliance culture where meeting performance management demands becomes the dominant focus rather than meeting the needs of children and their families’ (Munro Review of Child Protection: Final Report: HMSO May 2011) is something that I, and many of my colleagues have found to be deeply troubling.

I have therefore, reluctantly, come to the conclusion that it is not possible for me, as a Cafcass employee, properly to represent the interests  of children nor to report independently, honestly and helpfully to the court in a way that is consistent with my statutory duties and my professional conscience.  Fulfilling the statutory duties  of a family court reporter requires a degree of professional autonomy which Cafcass employees are, in practice, effectively denied by the compliance culture and its various managerial buttresses.

I have  therefore resigned from Cafcass.  My last day of service was yesterday.

It is not possible for me personally to contact everyone with whom I have worked over many years but I would like to express my thanks to everyone within the Bristol and Avon Family Justice world for the generous advice, assistance and support I have received in all sorts of ways.  Please feel free to circulate this letter – and apologies to those I have not contacted directly.

Yours sincerely

Charles Place"

Background:

CAFCASS WEBSITE

Charles Place was suspended from CAFCASS in 2009 and allegations of misconduct made against him in connection with his voicing of concerns about the operation of CAFCASS were not upheld by the General Social Care Council. In it's decision notice the GSCC stated that Mr Place's criticism of delay in CAFCASS reporting on a private forum was "legitimate" and that "the facts supported the stance taken by [Mr Place] that CAFCASS had put a dishonest spin on the scale of the problems it faced." The decision notice can be found here.

Anthony Douglas, CEO CAFCASS

Anthony Douglas, CEO CAFCASS

I contacted Charles Place as a courtesy to ask if he minded the above letter being posted on Pink Tape. In his reply Mr Place raises a number of other points which, if an accurate reflection of how CAFCASS is operating, are very concerning. I have thought about whether or not it would be appropriate to include those supplemental comments in this blog post, but it seems to me that the questions raised are serious ones, and which are of public interest. I have however left out parts of the correspondence which might identify any individual, or which concern the detail of Mr Place's working relationship with specific colleagues.

I do not know whether the information below is entirely accurate - others may respond and tell me that Mr Place is wrong - but I do know that much of what he says is entirely consistent with my own observations and what other CAFCASS officers have told me openly or in confidence. I am however merely an outsider to the organisation, albeit that I have regular and frequent contact with it's representatives, and struggle daily to match needs of individual families with the a la carte menu of defined and restricted services that is a feature of post-Interim-Guidance CAFCASS.

In fairness to CAFCASS, they have of late received more positive inspection reports than in previous years (one example is here), which is an indication that they are doing something right. It is also fair to point out that CAFCASS, like other areas of the family justice system, continue to operate under increasing demand (see here: August care stats at record levels).

Charles Place's comments:

"I was suspended from work (again) in May of this year. The precise reasons for this were never really clear - evidence cited was a few internal. mildly disrespectful and slightly ranty emails and a spat over the content of some of my 'schedule 2' letters.  

I admit that I had been  aggrieved. Following my vindication by the GSCC last September in respect of Cafcass charges of 'gross misconduct' - which basically said my saying that Cafcass was dishonest couldn't be misconduct because it was true -  I failed to  get any sort of proper apology.  
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I have tended to avoid taking on public law cases for several years now because it has seemed to me almost impossible to do the job properly within the constraints imposed by Cafcass, and also because of a genuine fear of being subject to something like what happened to the CG in the Re K case - far from this being a 'one off'  as claimed by Cafcass it seemed to me to be 'an accident waiting to happen'  given the  attitudes of the Cafcass management.
 
As someone now primarily involved in private law work I felt  that there were real issues in the switch to the kind of intervention by Cafcass embodied in the 'schedule 2  letters that are now submitted pre 1st directions hearing.  The actual preparation of the letters required us slavishly to conform to a procedure: scripted telephone calls, rigidly restricted enquiries, a highly prescriptive template 'quality controlled' by a manager armed with three pages of tick boxes....The letters purport to be some sort of risk assessment and are often used   to warrant Cafcass' opposition to the making of any orders at all. They are a good example of an embodiment in practice  of what Prof Munro calls 'The false hope of eliminating risk' - which  'has contributed significantly to the repeated use of increased prescription as the solution to perceived problems. Consequently this has increased defensive practice by professionals so that children and young people's best interests are not always at the heart of decisions...'
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Any 'risk assessment' that relies on telephone interviews with the participants is bound to be limited in its validity.  The exclusion of any contact with the child in any circumstances for the purpose of writing a sched 2 harks back to the perception of the child simply as 'object of concern' as Lady Butler Schloss put it.

Reliance on these letters as the main Cafcass activity in private law cases has of course drastically reduced the capacity of the service to report under section 7. Consequently for a greatly increased proportion of children the possibility of their case being properly investigated with due reference to section 1.3 is lost. 

Eileen Munro

Eileen Munro

What was  really bugging me in May - in the context of many  other jobsworth type bureaucratic requirements if you know what I mean, was that because I had omitted to refer in some of my sched 2  letters to 'issues of diversity'  - even though i had no reason to believe that there were issues of this kind that were relevant to the application (and I accept, of course that sometimes such issues are very relevant) - my professional competence was being called into question and i was told to redraft letters that seemed to me - for what they were worth - perfectly adequate.  It seemed to impossible to have any sort of discussion or argument about this - or other aspects of the sched 2 policy without it becoming a disciplinary matter.

.
Vera Fahlberg the American psychotherapist who wrote with such insight on issues of childhood attachment, fostering, loss etc was an admirer of the pre Cafcass system for representing children. She wrote - in the nineties - 'every child needs an 'irrational advocate' such a person as a guardian ad litem who will not be hidebound by rules and regulations and can be creative and imaginative.'  That was, pre cafcass something of a mantra for me and the absurdity of trying to substitute 'cafcass officer' for 'Guardian ad litem' in this passage is probably as good a way as any of understanding why I felt I had to get out of it!"

Mr Place draws my attention to the evidence of CAFCASS Chief Exec Anthony Douglas at the Parliamentary Public Accounts and Justice Committees, and the case of A County Council v K & Ors (By the Child's Guardian Ht) [2011] EWHC 1672 (Fam) (04 July 2011) (brief blog post here), which for him are evidence that problems persist. The Munro report is also quoted, and that can be found here.

I would welcome comment or response from CAFCASS.

Please keep any comments respectful and confined to the organisational issues not attacks on individuals.