Operations of the Family Courts - Justice Committee Contents

Written evidence from Cafcass (FC 61)



Following the Justice Committee hearings on 25 January and 1 March 2011, which heard evidence from witnesses concerning the operation of Cafcass in the family courts, Cafcass considers that it may be helpful to provide Committee members with further information regarding some of the concerns raised.

We have in large part directed our briefing to the issues related to Cafcass that have been raised by witnesses. We have also attached, at the end of this paper, Cafcass' February 2011 figures for care applications and private law and care case information (the latter two are Cafcass Key Performance Indicators 1 and 2 for 2010-11).

Cafcass looks forward to its appearance before the Committee on 22 March, 2011.

On the issue of delay in family proceedings

At the Committee's 1 March meeting Mrs Justice Pauffley raised particular concerns about regional variations in Cafcass performance. She said:

"I think in bad areas that Cafcass is demoralised; proportionate working has resulted in some officers not attending final hearings; this is a 'grave problem'."

It may be helpful for members to note that Cafcass' draft Operating Manual for 2011-13 sets out the requirements placed by Cafcass on Children's Guardians. These emphasise the need to undertake their work in a proportionate way: this means "carrying out no more work than is necessary on each case to meet the requirements of the court rules and relevant practice directions. The requirement to carry out necessary work stems from Part 16 of the Family Procedure Rules 2010 and Practice Direction 16 A".[103]

The Operating Manual gives guidance to staff about how to interpret the Family Procedure Rules 2010 and match our available resources to the particular circumstances of a case, considering, amongst other issues, the quality of the local authority work and the nature and complexity of the case. Cafcass' Operating Manual does not give blanket guidance on the attendance at hearings. Instead, this would be determined on a case by case basis in agreement with the courts. In the case of fully contested care hearings (which account for 15% of total care workload) it is generally the case that Children's Guardians would usually attend final hearings, unless excused from doing so by the court.

Staff morale is high in some teams and less so in others. This is dependent upon a number of local factors but it is inappropriate to arrive at a generalised conclusion.

1.  Cafcass requirements for post qualifying experience of Family Court Advisors

On 1 March, Judith Timms (on behalf of Nagalro) raised concerns regarding Cafcass' recruitment of experienced social workers to the role of Family Court Adviser (FCA). Judith suggested that:

"Cafcass is now recruiting people who have only two years' post-qualifying experience."

Cafcass' current requirement is that FCAs have at least three years post qualifying experience. The table below sets out the length of experience of Cafcass FCAs, comprising their employment with Cafcass and at least three years pre-Cafcass post-qualifying experience. It does not include the full length of post-qualification experience gained by FCAs prior to becoming employed by Cafcass, since this information is not collected.
FCA experience PercentageCumulative (ascending) Cumulative (descending)Numbers
between 3 years and less than 5 years16.2% 16.2%100.0%179
more than 5 years less than 1033.1% 49.3%83.8%365
more than 10 years less than 1511.4% 60.7%50.7%126
more than 15 years less than 2010.7% 71.4%39.3%118
more than 20 years28.6% 100.0%28.6%315
 100%   1,103

As part of Cafcass' commitment to contribute towards the development of the social work profession we have recently put in place a recruitment programme to recruit newly qualified social workers (NQSWs). We currently employ eight NQSWs, though these workers will not have any case responsibility for public law care cases until they have completed three years employment with Cafcass. Thus, in employing NQSWs in this way, Cafcass has not reduced its requirement that those undertaking the role of Children's Guardian should have at least three years post-qualification experience. The NQSW programme supports new social workers to gain experience, in line with the views of the Social Work Reform Board, and government policy.

2.  Cafcass' approach to proportionate work and its impact on caseloads and staff welfare

In his evidence to the Committee on 1 March, Harry Fletcher (on behalf of NAPO) suggested that although Cafcass leadership understands the problems it is facing, overall there are deep concerns about the solution being put forward (i.e. proportionate working and Cafcass' case allocation practices). He raised the following concerns:

"Although Cafcass says cases are allocated that's not what staff 'on the ground' suggest - they say they're sometimes emailed cases and managers hold cases so in reality no work is actually being done on the case".

As the information set out on page 7 (below) makes clear, Cafcass is now dealing on a substantively allocated basis (i.e. Children's Guardian appointed by the court, after being provided with the name of the member of staff or self-employed contractor) with 12,525 care cases (as at the end of February 2011). There were also 215 duty allocated care cases and nine unallocated cases. The equivalent private law figures are set out at page 8 below.

There is a limited degree of case holding by Service Managers. This sometimes arises where managers have recently been promoted and there is a need to complete the work allocated to them when they were practitioners. In addition, some managers like to be responsible for a small number of cases, in order to maintain their practice competence. The table below details the number of substantively allocated cases, before the courts, allocated to Service Managers as at 8 March 2011:

AreaPrivate law Public law careTotal
North3035 65
Central716 23
South8350 133
National120101 221

On 1 March, Harry Fletcher expressed his concerns about Cafcass expenditure on managers, compared to expenditure on front line staff:

"Over the last five or six years we have seen a very significant increase in what we will call senior manager grades. The ratio in terms of money is about £40 million spent on the front line and £20 million on managers."

Expenditure (April 2010 - January 2011) on practitioners, business support staff, Service Manages and senior managers (Heads of Service and Corporate Management Team members) is detailed below. The Service Manager expenditure consists of Heads of Service, Service Manager and the Corporate Management Team. The Practitioners expenditure includes Family Court Advisors (FCA), Family Support Worker, Newly Qualified Social Worker, Bank FCA, Self Employed Practitioners and Agency Practitioners.

Service Managers11,138,803
Business Support15,254,761
Total Workforce85,750,708

Reference was made by Harry Fletcher on 1 March to a remark attributed to Anthony Douglas that caseloads may hit 35 if workload increases continue. Harry Fletcher's understanding is that the average mixed caseload is around 20 - 25; staff say they work in the evenings and sometimes weekends

Cafcass is currently trialling, on a national basis for six months from 1 March 2011, a workload weighting system that has been developed in collaboration with Napo and Unison, two of the three recognised unions within Cafcass. Based on joint modelling work between unions and management undertaken since summer 2010, bandings (below) have been identified, within which all practitioners' 'Workload Scores' are situated. The use of bandings is intended to take account of the fact that no workload weighting system can be precise enough for it to be appropriate to set a single prescribed ideal workload score or 'correct' number of cases. It also recognises that there is no such thing as an average case, and that there are always peaks and troughs in the intensity of work in individual cases. As cases progress through their various stages a practitioner's workload score will fluctuate, in accordance with the different 'weights' attached to the stages of private law and public law cases.
Category BandingWorkload Score Range % of employed and agency Family Court Advisers in banding (when modelled)
Low: attention required18 or fewer 15% - approx. 187 staff
Low 18.1 - 27.5 15% - approx. 187 staff
Expected 27.6 - 43.5 40% - approx. 500 staff
High43.6 - 5315% - approx. 187 staff
High: attention requiredMore than 53 15% - approx. 187 staff

The workloads weighting system is intended to encourage the movement of staff towards the median position of 35 points within the 'Expected' band. For the vast majority of staff, this will mean that they will hold between 12 and 35 cases, depending on their type and stage. However, Cafcass does recognise that service managers will need to take proper account of other factors that might affect a FCA's overall workload capacity, such as their health.

Judith Timms also raised concerns on 1 March about Cafcass approach to proportionate working in the following points:

"The operational model which is being driven through is unfortunately misguided in some elements. The emphasis has been on a process-driven, line-managed system...." Also, she said that "we are concerned that there are now three categories of allocation: unallocated, duty allocated and substantively allocated."

On 8 March 2011, one week after the Committee heard this evidence from Judith Timms Cafcass published, for consultation until 4 April 2011, its draft Operating Manual for 2011-13. There has never been a previous Operating (or Operational) Manual. Copies are being sent to Nagalro and other key organisations. We look forward to receiving their comments, once they have had the opportunity to consider its contents.

Since summer 2009, as a method of dealing with unprecedented increases in the numbers of care applications by local authorities, Cafcass has made use of duty allocations in some cases. However, Cafcass is increasingly moving towards the use of a single category of allocation - full/substantive allocation. In public law care cases, there has been a steady decrease in the number of cases allocated on a duty basis, which have reduced from 1,121 in May 2010 to 215 in February 2011.

Cafcass defines the categories of allocation as:

—  Unallocated - This category should only comprise brand new cases. 

—  Duty Allocated - This category comprises where we will both react to incoming information and also will take pro-active steps at appropriate points in time to review the status, needs and level of priority of the case.

—  Allocated - (substantive or fully allocated) cases where the named worker will both react to incoming information and take appropriate pro-active steps and, in addition, will undertake the work that is set out in the case plan, and also in accordance with the courts' requests/directions. A substantive allocation includes the production of the case plan and any required reports for the case. A substantive allocation is also allocation to an appointment of Children's Guardian by the court in s31 care, supervision and other relevant Public Law cases.

3.  The focus given to Cafcass' completion of safeguarding checks

This and other issues were raised at the Committee meeting, on 25 January 2011, by Barbra Esam (NSPCC) about Cafcass' focus on safeguarding.

"It seems that Cafcass may be having to focus all their energies on safeguarding at the expense of putting children's views into the courts. That is dangerous."

In private law applications all C100 (or other) court application forms are screened by Cafcass for any indication of harm affecting children or vulnerable adults. This pre-first hearing work is necessary in order that Cafcass fulfils its statutory duty to safeguard children in family proceedings. This work is also required under the terms of the President's March 2010 Private Law Programme, to assist the court in identifying those cases which appear to feature child protection concerns.

In terms of the time involved in completing these checks the Cafcass National Business Centre (the national centre for processing all C100s) ensures that every case is transferred to the responsible local team within two working days of receiving the C100. A pilot scheme is currently in operation at the National Business Centre, which involves seconded police staff undertaking Police National Computer and other checks being undertaken, in respect of 18 police force areas. The results of all of these checks are returned to Cafcass within two working days of Cafcass initiating them. The President's March 2010 Private Law Programme makes specific provision for this work to be undertaken, as an essential precursor to decision-making by the courts.

On 25 January, Barbara Esam also raised concerns that Cafcass practitioners are not spending enough time with children.

"We are hearing anecdotally that there is less contact time with children. If the Cafcass officer doesn't have enough time with the child and the family, they are not going to have enough information to make good recommendations. That is the worst part."

In all public law care cases and in nearly all private law cases where the courts request Cafcass involvement after the first hearing, it is Cafcass expectation that children will be seen. An exception to this general expectation is where Cafcass practitioners are required to witness parental consent to adoption.

Cafcass' draft Operating Manual is clear that proportionate working always requires visits to be made to children and families where an initial assessment is being undertaken, if significant new information has been received or a new concern has arisen. However, given the nature of Cafcass' responsibilities in private law applications and the specific and time-limited role of the Children's Guardian in public law care cases, the key issue to consider is the rationale and focus of direct work with children, rather than its quantum..

Barbara Esam also raised a concern that there was an increase in the number of changes' during the life of individual cases, in Children's Guardians,

"Also, the changes in guardians are very detrimental to children's outcomes."

Cafcass has no evidence to suggest that there is a greater frequency in change to the Children's Guardian than there has been in the past. When changes do occur, the reason would usually be due to an FCA leaving his/her employment with Cafcass or due to ill health. In London, Cafcass has recently acted to mitigate this risk, which has arisen in a small number of cases where agency practitioners had been working as Children's Guardians. Cafcass has agreed to fund the work involved in completing the cases, even though the agency practitioners' assignments to Cafcass have ended. The need to do this has arisen, in largest part, because of delays, unforeseeable at the time the practitioners were allocated to the cases, in their completion.


Feb-10Mar-10 Apr-10May-10 Jun-10Jul-10 Aug-10Sep-10 Oct-10Nov-10 Dec-10Jan-11 Feb-11
Substantive10,38310,518 10,76010,97411,243 11,49311,60911,986 12,25612,36612,406 12,38712,525
Duty850991 106111211049 10491017727 568435431 316215
Unallocated430474 551422210 143159130 451839 159
total workload11,663 11,98312,372 12,51712,502 12,68512,785 12,84312,869 12,81912,876 12,71812,749
 Feb-10Mar-10 Apr-10May-10 Jun-10Jul-10 Aug-10Sep-10 Oct-10Nov-10 Dec-10Jan-11 Feb-11
Substantive89.0%87.8% 87.0%87.7%89.9% 90.6%90.8%93.3% 95.2%96.5%96.3% 97.4%98.2%
Duty7.3%8.3% 8.6%9.0%8.4% 8.3%8.0%5.7% 4.4%3.4%3.3% 2.5%1.7%
Unallocated3.7%4.0% 4.5%3.4%1.7% 1.1%1.2%1.0% 0.3%0.1%0.3% 0.1%0.1%

As a result of the continuing rise in Care application demand since November 2008, Cafcass has seen a steady increase in the size of the overall national Care case workload, as evidenced in the above graph. The graph shows the reduction of unallocated cases, from 430 in February 2010 to 9 in February 2011, and the decreased number of cases allocated on a duty basis, from 1121 in May 2010 to 215 in February 2011. On the whole, Cafcass is now dealing, on a substantively allocated basis (Children's Guardian appointed), with around 21% (or 2,100) more Care cases in February 2011 compared to February 2010.


Feb-10Mar-10 Apr-10May-10 Jun-10Jul-10 Aug-10Sep-10 Oct-10Nov-10 Dec-10Jan-11 Feb-11
Substantive17,24817,43510518 17,1461097419,316 20,17319.72120,406 21,64421,88022,135 22,46023,428
Duty5,6047,406 8,1928,4997,800 7,1537,2206,924 5,7844,9474,902 4,3983,762
Unallocated5,2722,180 2,2291,8521,431 1,2921,2521,120 849706578 400263
Total workload28,124 27,02127,567 27,74428,547 28,61828,193 28,45028,277 27,53327,615 27,25827,453
 Feb-10 Mar-10Apr-10 May-10Jun-10 Jul-10Aug-10 Sep-10Oct-10 Nov-10Dec-10 Jan-11Feb-11
Substantive61.3%64.5% 62.262.767.7% 70.5%69.9%71.7% 76.5%79.5%80.2% 82.4%85.3%
Duty19.9%27.4% 29.7%30.6%27.3% 25.0%25.6%24.3% 20.5%18.0%17.8% 16.1%13.7%
Unallocated18.7%8.1% 8.1%6.7%5.0% 4.5%4.4%3.9% 3.0%2.6%2.1% 1.5%1.0%

Note: At the end of each month, a small number of cases were held in the Cafcass Intake team. These cases are counted in the above graph but cannot be attributed to a particular operational or service area.


2009-2010: Care demand remained at unprecedentedly high levels throughout the year. During the year, Cafcass received 8,825 Care applications. March 2010 saw the highest ever number of Care applications recorded in an individual month, with 853 applications. As a whole, 2009-10 saw a 36% increase in public law Care applications when compared to 2008/09.

2010-2011: Care application demand has remained at a very high level. Between April 2010 and February 2011, Cafcass received 8,239 new applications. This figure is 3.3 % higher compared to the same period last year. Care application demand for all months in the current year have been the highest ever recorded by Cafcass for the individual months except June, October and December 10.

Month2006-07 2007--082008-09 2009-102010-11
Apr507497 380682692
May595569 399648686
Jun613514 369801770
Jul569590 485791847
Aug614542 492687775
Sep546504 483723754
Oct606511 496725724
Nov595539 592768819
Dec480422 719744681
Jan558514 666668682
Feb525502 659735809
Mar578537 748853
Total6,7866,241 6,4888,8258,239

103   Cafcass draft Operating Manaual (March 2011), taken from Section 1 page 4.  Back

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Prepared 14 July 2011