I recently made a FOI request to CAFCASS in order to see what was happening in terms of the trends of complaints from parents. I thought (rightly) that there was likely to have been an increase in complaints post LASPO driven by the increase in LiPs, and I wanted to find out if my hunch was right.
The response is now in : see whatdotheyknow.com.
The response was interesting for a number of reasons.
Firstly, as expected there is an upward trend in complaint numbers, although perhaps not as stark as I had thought it might be.
2011/12 : 1,265
2012/13 : 1,495
2013/14 : 1,596
2014 (to 21/10) : 769 (grosses up to around 1400 - but we'll have to see how that pans out, my hunch is it will be more)
On to the outcome of complaints. The rather astonishing fact emerges that as of February 2012 CAFCASS, having previously gathered such data, decided to stop collecting it. So, whilst we know that OVER 50% of complaints to CAFCASS in 2011/12 were upheld or partially upheld - we have no idea of how often CAFCASS has been getting it wrong since. That is an astonishing lack of transparency - I absolutely did not expect to find that out and think it is hugely disappointing at a time when CAFCASS really needs to be building public trust and confidence. And when the last set of statistics gathered suggest that over half of the complaints have a good basis - that is really not a time to stop using complaints as a tool to enhance practice and performance.
Next up - categorisation of complaints.
Again, because of changes to the way data is collected and handled the actual figures don't tell us much. But what is interesting is the decision made about how complaints might be categorised. Until Aug 2014 the categories of complaint were described from the perspective of CAFCASS and were rather bland. They didn't touch on the heart of the potential issues I see clients and litigants complaining about. But from August 2014 the categories were expanded to include bias, discrimination, factual errors... Forgive me, but how is it possible that a pubic body like CAFCASS with Equality Act duties can not have tracked discrimination complaints statistics before August 2014? Again, astonishing. I've asked for clarification of who actually categorises the complaints as it seems to me it is a rather subjective task.
One of the things I had really wanted was the numbers of unrepresented parties who had complained. Unsurprisingly perhaps this data is not kept. But I would bet my next FAS form that there is a high preponderance of LiPs making complaints. And that the increase in LiPs accounts for the increase in complaints.
Finally, as best we can tell, the number of complaints to CAFCASS is rising alongside increases in the number of complaints to the Parliamentary and Health Services Ombudsman about them, if the increase in enquiries back to CAFCASS arising from those complaints is an indicator of ombudsman complaint numbers.
So there we have it ladies and gentlemen. Sadly, illuminating for all the wrong reasons. CAFCASS - PLEASE work towards more transparency!! Complaints are a reality for every big organisation, and the efficient resolution of them, and use of them as a learning tool is something to be proud of.