2 Managing the performance of staff |
10. The President of the Family Division and
the Family Division Liaison Judge for Greater London told us that
the judge's role in the family court had been extended to encompass
case management, including the casework carried out by the family
court adviser. Judges
now issue directions to family court advisers about the work they
want carried out on cases, a significant change from the former
practice whereby the advisers had independently determined the
scope of their enquiries. Some advisers regarded the changes as
a challenge to their independence.
Despite the pressures on Cafcass staff from changes in organisation
and working practices, the judges told us that family court advisers
had maintained the quality of their advice and reports to the
11. Prior to autumn 2008, Cafcass's performance
across a range of other measures was nevertheless unsatisfactory.
Ofsted inspected 10 of the 21 Cafcass service areas between December
2008 and April 2010, and assessed the overall effectiveness of
eight as inadequate and only two as satisfactory.
Cafcass's response was to appoint what it viewed as stronger performance
managers. In 2009,
it underwent a corporate restructuring,
and replaced the senior managers who had established the organisation's
infrastructure with managers with experience of running busy child
Four of the five subsequent Ofsted visits reported that areas
had made satisfactory progress against previous recommendations,
but progress was judged inadequate in one.
12. Prior to 2008, Cafcass's system for managing
staff performance was not adequate.
Work started on an improved system in 2006, and a new system was
introduced in 2008. After 2008, around 150 staff were managed
out of Cafcass because of underperformance. Cafcass put in place
a new tier of stafffamily support workersto
support its family court advisers, and increased the number of
service managers to increase the supervision of staff and of complex
cases. At the time
of our hearing, there were still around 100 staff whose performance
was being addressed through action plans and practice improvement
notices. The Chief Executive told us that he considered poor staff
performance to be under control and no longer the issue it had
been a few years previously.
13. Sickness absence among family court advisers
had also been a particular problem for Cafcass, and in 2006-07
it set a target to reduce sickness absence to an average of 9.0
days per employee per annum.
However, in 2009-10 sickness absence averaged 11.6 days per staff
member, and was 16.1 days on average for family court advisers.
By comparison, the public sector average was 8.3 days in 2009.
Cafcass attributed the high rate of sickness absence to the stress
associated with all social work, as well as to the relatively
older age of many of its staff. Cafcass told us that it had recently
taken action to reduce the number of staff on long-term sickness
absence, and had reduced the total cost per year from £3.3
million to £2.5 million. For the first five months of 2010-11,
sickness absence had reduced to 13 days per year pro rata for
family court advisers.
14. Cafcass acknowledged that the morale of its
staff was unacceptably low before 2008, and said that staff had
become tired of constant change.
The Department told us that the frequency of new instructions,
combined with the pressures of day-to-day work, had led to negative
attitudes, and contributed to sickness absence.
Cafcass also suggested that the pressure from senior managers
to improve performance and drive down sickness absence affected
morale. Staff morale
remained low in some service areas.
15. Cafcass had experienced a high turnover of
staff, through retirement and those leaving for performance reasons,
and had a vacancy rate of three per cent in September 2010. Despite
problems in attracting people into the wider social work profession,
Cafcass said it did not find it difficult to recruit new practitioners.
Cafcass nevertheless accepted that there were risks to be managed
where teams had a high proportion of staff approaching retirement
age. There was potential for key people to leave at around the
same time. In reflecting on the quality of family court advisers'
advice and reports to the courts, the President of the Family
Court expressed some anxiety about the risks of losing knowledge
16. The compliance of Cafcass's staff with its
corporate initiatives in some areas was poor. For example, at
15 July 2010, four of the 21 areas had still not submitted business
plans for 2010-11. Cafcass had only recently extended core national
systems, such as business planning, down to the local level.
It is involving staff in developing tools to reduce bureaucracy
and improve consistency in practice.
33 Qq 101, 109, 125 Back
Q 125 Back
Qq 114-116, 127 Back
Qq 1-2 Back
Qq 1 and 28 Back
Q 60 Back
Q 53 Back
Q 61 Back
C&AG's Report, Appendix Two Back
Q 69 Back
Q 72 Back
Q 83 Back
C&AG's Report, para 3.20 Back
CBI report Absence and Workplace Health Survey, June 2010 Back
Ev 24 Back
Qq 2 and 36 Back
Qq 4 and 37 Back
Q 37 Back
C&AG's Report, para 3.23 Back
Q 81 Back
Qq 81 and 115 Back
Q 70; C&AG's Report, para 15 Back