"An open letter in respect of my resignation from Cafcass
26 September 2011
I have long had my doubts as to whether Cafcass as an organisation is fit for purpose. I 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.
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.
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.
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.
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)  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.