Conclusions and Recommendations |
1. Cafcass, as an organisation, is not fit-for-purpose.
Many areas still do not provide a timely service to the courts,
and the average time to fully allocate care cases at 27 days,
down from 40 days, is still well above what it should be. Cafcass
and the Department should report back to the Committee in a year,
when we will expect to see that they have completed firm actions
and undertaken rigorous monitoring to achieve the large amount
of improvement that is still required.
2. With duty allocation needing to reduce
quickly and substantially, there is a risk that the reductions
could result in the scale of unallocated cases returning to the
unacceptable levels seen in summer 2009.
Cafcass should establish plans with clear milestones for every
area to manage the reductions in duty allocation of care cases
and take prompt action in circumstances where unallocated cases
start to rise.
3. Cafcass did not see the crisis coming,
nor did it have a contingency plan in the event of a significant
increase in demand. The specific impact
of the Baby Peter tragedy was hard to predict, but the possibility
of a sustained increase in cases was a scenario that Cafcass should
have planned for. It should prepare robust contingency plans so
that it is prepared to act when changed circumstances affect its
4. Cafcass took far too longuntil October
2008to put in place an acceptable performance management
framework and is still dealing with the legacy of under-performing
staff and low morale. Cafcass's senior
team should develop and implement a clear action plan to address
existing and emerging skills gaps, and to raise performance and
5. Sickness absence among frontline staff
is unacceptably high and significantly exceeds levels elsewhere
in the public sector. Cafcass should develop
a comprehensive set of actions to drive sickness absence down
to acceptable levels, building on best practice elsewhere in the
public sector. The Department should monitor Cafcass's progress
against the implementation plan.
6. Judges remain satisfied with the quality
of reports to the courts, but caseloads carried by family court
advisers have been increasing, which brings new risks to the quality
of service provided to the courts and families.
Cafcass should manage individuals' caseloads so that staff morale
does not fall and the quality of reports to the courts is maintained
or improved. Cafcass should also plan for the succession of the
many experienced and longstanding family court advisers who are
approaching retirement, in order to protect the continuity and
quality of service.
7. Low compliance by staff with important
requirements has been a persistent problem, and has undermined
Cafcass's efforts to improve performance.
In driving through its Transformation Programme, Cafcass's top
management should take personal responsibility for effectively
communicating changes to staff. Managers at all levels should
be assessed on their effectiveness in both inspiring staff to
comply with corporate requirements and holding them to account
for non-compliant behaviour.
8. The quality of assessments on care cases
by local authority social workers varies. Poor quality assessments
place an additional burden on Cafcass as the courts must request
a new assessment from Cafcass family court advisers if they cannot
rely on the work of local authority social workers.
The Department should work with local authorities to ensure that
they are fulfilling their responsibility under the Public Law
Outline to undertake appropriate pre-action work with the family,
and to produce good assessments so that cases can proceed without
requiring extra interventions or investigations by Cafcass.
9. It is shocking that Cafcass has not previously
collected all the information it needs to manage its workload
more effectively. Shortcomings in the
Case Management System make compiling trend data laborious but
even so, Cafcass must undertake the data collection it needs to
manage its business. It should agree with the Department the quality
and type of information required and put in place measures to
secure it. In addition, the Department should support Cafcass
in securing a better service from the provider of its corporate
10. Cafcass has taken too long to secure essential
changes, and much of the responsibility lies with top management.
Driving through the Transformation Programme while overseeing
consistent improvements in the level of service will take strong
and vigorous leadership and communication. The Department should
regularly monitor Cafcass's progress in implementing the Programme,
holding senior management to account for any delay. Cafcass and
the Department should review the robustness of the Programme regularly
and take action promptly to resolve emerging problems.