Cafcass to allocate only the highest priority work in South Yorkshire and Humber

Cafcass has made the decision to allocate only the highest priority cases in South Yorkshire and Humber. The decision has been made as a result of a combination of a high number of open active cases, finite staffing capacity and staff absence relating to Covid-19.

Prior to the Pandemic, Cafcass and the whole family justice system were already experiencing unprecedented demand. The Pandemic has created backlogs in the court system which has meant Cafcass caseloads have increased beyond pre-pandemic levels given the reduced system throughput in family courts and continued high levels of demand.

For these reasons, we have had to make the very difficult decision that we cannot give all families our usual service and must prioritise working with those children most in need. This will include children in public law proceedings and those in private law proceedings where we are concerned about their safety and welfare. We will continue to carefully assess all cases that are ordered by the court and undertake safeguarding checks, to ensure that the needs of each individual child are considered before a decision is made.

Our normal process is to allocate cases to a Family Court Adviser as soon as they are ordered by the court, however this is not currently possible in South Yorkshire and Humber. All new cases in this area will be assessed and cases that are not considered a priority will not be allocated to a Family Court Adviser until there is one available. Parents and the courts will be notified in each case. Where appropriate, children will also be informed.

We have created a protocol which sets-out a clear structure for prioritising work. Cases that are considered to be in the priority one and two category, will always be allocated. These cases will involve all public law cases and urgent private law cases where there are concerns about the safety and welfare of children and where Cafcass are the only safeguarding agency involved.

Cases that are categorised as priority three and four will not be allocated. These cases will be cases where there is already a safeguarding agency involved or there are considered to be no safeguarding risks.

Our position will be regularly reviewed both internally and with our partners in the local court areas. As soon as it’s possible to do so, the normal process of allocating cases will resume. This decision does not currently affect any cases which are already being progressed with Cafcass but will affect new cases received from 23 November onwards.

Cafcass Chief Executive, Jacky Tiotto said:

“The impact of Covid-19 on all our lives is both profound and frightening. It is weighing heavily on children in particular, whose education, friendships, families, hopes and dreams are compromised. Taking the decision to stop allocating all the work that comes to us has been one of the most difficult of my professional career. There are no easy answers when trying to balance the needs of children and families against the finite capacity of professional social work staff to be supported to carry out their work safely and effectively.

“We are holding at the front of our minds that each case we do not allocate involves one or more children who need our help and we are working closely with our partners to explore all the options available. We are grateful for their support and will continue to work across the system to minimise the impact that this decision will have on children and families. We hope this is a temporary situation, though we are worried about the continued impact of rising demand and slower system throughput across the country. We are monitoring our caseloads and the wellbeing of our staff to support them to be able to do the best they can to serve the children’s best interests. I truly am so sorry it has come to this moment.”

All families who do not have their case allocated will be notified via letter, explaining who the duty manager with responsibility for their case is. Children may also get their own letter depending on the nature of their case as well as their age and understanding. The courts will be informed if cases are not being allocated. When the case is able to be allocated, both families and the court will be notified.

We are now exploring with our family justice partners what can be done to reduce the number of open cases in South Yorkshire and Humber as well as across the rest of the country. We understand that other essential services are having to make equally difficult decisions as a result of the pandemic, and like them we will continue to do everything possible to ensure we resume normal ways of working and deliver a good quality and timely service for children and families.

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