Putting children and young people first in the family courts

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Managing radical change

Anthony DouglasTalk of perpetual reform can create a healthy unstoppable momentum – a much-needed culture of urgency – yet it can also increase the anxiety of everyone involved about the future. ‘What will happen to me?’ is the common question, felt even if not expressed, for service users and staff alike who are bombarded with tales of the need for further radical change. It is crucial that those of us in charge of organisations manage change well if we are not to lose people – either through them walking away by one route or another, or disengaging.We try in Cafcass to promote stability and be open to radical change simultaneously and not to see our organisational culture as favouring either one or the other. It must embrace both. We seek to maintain the best of what we do and to convey in the public and professional mind that our best services will be there in the future and will be reliable. One of our services that in my view will still be with us in ten years’ time, both in public and private law cases, is the work we do between the time an application is made to court and the first substantive hearing. The faster cases are dealt with in court, the more important it is for us to carry out an accurate initial case analysis on behalf of individual children, particularly where a child needs protection or a clear support service. A court is able to make a swift determination if this initial work is done. Without our initial input on behalf of children, many decisions would become unsafe and would expose children to foreseeable and preventable risks. I also think there will always be a role for us to carry out casework in some cases. This has been our practice for over 30 years. In that time, many children’s lives have been saved and improved. We are getting better and better at what we do. Not to give children that independent protection would be a backwards step. 

But for the rest of our work, we have to be open to change and to see if there are better ways of working. In looking ahead to the next 2015-2020 Parliament – which we are now doing – we have to dig deeper and deeper to find ways of helping children, not just in Cafcass, but in the family justice system as a whole. We also have to get better at gathering and making available the evidence of the difference we know we make. These days, without evidence, no assertions about worth and value are allowed to stand up for long. 

Being able to offer stability at the same time as introducing radical change well will define successful organisations for the rest of this decade. More change in this period will be citizen-led and bottom-up, so we also have to adapt to the way our working environment is being opened up and steadily exposed. Above all, we have to stay proud in what we do and to be values-led. Organisations with a strong value base do better in tough times. One of the strongest value bases of all, which binds an organisation and its people together, is the value of helping children. That is what we have always been about, and what we will go on being about, as our practice models change and adapt with the times.

Written by Chief Executive Anthony Douglas at 00:00

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