Cafcass's response to increased demand for its services - Public Accounts Committee Contents


The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service ('Cafcass') has a vital responsibility to vulnerable children suffering huge disruption in their lives. Following the publicity around the Baby Peter tragedy in 2008, Cafcass experienced a significant and sustained increase in demand for its services, receiving around 34 per cent more care cases in 2009-10 than the previous year. This led to chaos across the family justice system, and exposed Cafcass as an organisation that was not fit for purpose in dealing with the increased number of cases.

Cafcass has undergone major changes since it was established nine years ago. Although judges in the family court are satisfied with the quality of the advice and reports that Cafcass's family court advisers provide, Cafcass has failed to get to grips with fundamental weaknesses in its culture, management and performance. These problems have been to the detriment of children: eight out of ten Cafcass areas failed Ofsted inspections, which in 2009 gave overwhelming evidence that the service it provided for children and families was inadequate.

In the period from September 2009 to June 2010, Cafcass took up to 40 days on average to fully allocate a care case to a family court adviser. In private law, around a third of section 7 reports to the courts are more than 10 days late. The data which Cafcass holds on cases centrally contain inaccuracies. Sickness absence is unacceptably high, and staff morale is low, reflected in the difficulty management has in achieving staff compliance with requirements of the organisation.

Cafcass was only able to respond to the increase in demand following the Baby Peter tragedy through the use of measures which allowed it to do less work or to delay work on cases. The President of the Family Division (the judge who is head of Family Justice) issued Interim Guidance that allowed 'duty allocation' of care cases as a temporary measure so that Cafcass could get on top of its unallocated workload. From 1 October 2010, the President and Cafcass have made a joint agreement introducing transitional arrangements for another year, pending the outcome of the Family Justice Review. The agreement aims to continue reducing delays in allocating cases, while minimising the use of duty allocations.

While there have been some improvements in Cafcass's performance, the Committee does not share the Department for Education's confidence that the substantial organisational problems will be overcome by 2011. Cafcass also faces the challenge of dealing with the relentless rise in open cases that is putting pressure on all organisations working in the family justice system. Renewed energy and vigour are needed to sort this situation out if Cafcass is to become the world-class organisation it aspires to be.

On the basis of a Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General,[1] this Committee took evidence from Cafcass and the Department on Cafcass's response to changes in demand, its performance monitoring, and staff and their performance. The Committee would like to record its gratitude to the President of the Family Division and the Family Division Liaison Judge for Greater London for the valuable evidence they gave to the Committee on their views as customers of Cafcass.

1   C&AG's Report, Session 2009-10, Cafcass's response to increased demand for its services, HC 289 Back

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Prepared 11 November 2010