Cafcass publishes organisational guidance on working with children through Covid-19
Cafcass has today published guidance which outlines how arrangements are to be made for social workers to see children and families, work in the Cafcass offices and attend court during the enduring crisis associated with Covid-19. This guidance replaces the Covid-19 protocols which were published in July and summarises Cafcass’ approach to working with children and families during this period.
Seeing children and families
The guidance explains that it’s our priority to see children and families in person when it is in their best interest to do so. The decision whether to meet with a child in person or remotely will depend on their particular circumstances, those of their family and on their expressed preference. It advises clearly that the professional decision about how to see children rests with the practitioner with support and guidance from their manager. The rationale for the decision that is made, must be transparent, defensible, reasonable and communicated fully to the child, family and the court. We acknowledge in the guidance that our social workers will be making decisions about seeing children, that will take fully into account their needs including their safety and welfare but will also be balanced against the needs of other children on their caseload, the amount of time that will be spent travelling to the visit and the impact this creates for all their work. The advice is that weighing and balancing these complex decisions makes it all the more important to give full account in the case plan, in the engagements with children and in reports to court about how and when the child/ren will be seen.
A number of our offices reopened in the summer, but this guidance explain that from the end of November onwards all of our Cafcass offices and touchdown locations will be open, providing Covid-secure places to work and to meet children and families while keeping safe. We will continue to review and ensure that all of our measures are in accordance with government and public health guidance.
The guidance explains that all open courts are Covid-secure and have risk assessments completed by HMCTS that Cafcass staff can access. The Family Procedure Rules require the children’s guardian to attend final hearings and the authors of section 7 reports should attend if directed to do so. The court can direct that attendance may be by telephone or video link including the use of the Cloud Video Platform (or any other remote facility). The decision whether to hold a hearing remotely is one for the judge in each circumstance.
It should be a matter of discussion between the Family Court Adviser and the court on the most effective way that participation can take place with an agreement reached in advance of a hearing. The courts which are open will have the facility to arrange for evidence to be given remotely. There is significant use of hybrid hearings where the parents or other family members attend in person together with their advocates, while the guardian, social workers and other experts attend remotely. There will be cases where it is necessary for the guardian to be present in court. The needs of the children Cafcass represents may require that a hearing in person takes place.
Cafcass Chief Executive, Jacky Tiotto said:
“During the last eight months, we have faced and continue to face new challenges of a sort that we have not had to lead before. The Covid-19 crisis is having a devastating impact on all children, affecting their education, their childhoods, their friendships and their families. Many are living with the increased risk of more abuse, harm and parental conflict than they were before. For those who need the support and help of the family courts, we know that they are further harmed by delays in their proceedings and the absence of a range of professionals who may previously have been closer to them – this will include teachers, social workers, health visitors, doctors, family friends and neighbours. It is right and proper that we have been considering our responsibilities for seeing children especially in these difficult times. I have been delighted with the quality of thinking and conversation to get this right – there is no easy answer. This makes it all the more important to draw on the experienced practitioners and managers we have at Cafcass and to work this through together. The new guidance is a product of that collaboration and listening and I am proud of what is set out.”