Demand and capacity in the family justice system
From the start of lockdown until May, overall case demand fell by 17%. Since then, demand has returned to its pre–Covid levels but is of course exacerbated by reduced capacity in the family court system. We currently have the highest number of open active cases ever on our books, at around 36,000 – that’s around 62,000 children. Our Family Court Advisers have the highest caseloads they have ever had, and we are having to take serious and urgent action to reduce the quantum of work in our system so that quality of work is not affected and that delay to children does not extend beyond what it has to be.
We are currently working with all of our partners, introducing different ways of working so that we can continue to allocate cases but are able to safely step away from a case once our work is complete and whilst we wait for a subsequent court hearing. At the moment we must balance protecting the welfare of our staff and also minimising as far as we are able, the delay for children in family proceedings. We have appointed additional Family Court Advisers and locum staff where possible as well as increasing the number of Cafcass Associates.
For now, it is the focus of our weekly Covid programme board and the national recovery group to consider steps that must be taken to ease the pressures in the system now, as well as reform the system to address the issues identified by the President of the Family Division’s working groups in public and private law, and in the report of the Expert Panel on Harm in the Family Courts. We are doing this together and it feels good. Only problem is – we have no sense of reducing demand and the backlogs that have been established will not be easy to reduce. We will keep talking and thinking with our partners so that we get this right.