Partners e-bulletin May 2021
Jack Cordery joins Cafcass as new interim Operations Director
We are delighted that Jack Cordery has joined Cafcass as Interim Operational Director for the North of England. Jack joined us on 5 March and will be with Cafcass for at least the next twelve months. In addition to his operational leadership, Jack is a member of our corporate management team, also working closely with our Principal Social Worker, Sarah Parsons, on our improvement priorities relating to supervision and management oversight, feedback from families, quality assurance and public law reform.
Jack is a qualified social worker, with experience as a children’s guardian and a social work manager for over 38 years. He is passionate about improving the lives of children through high quality and evidence-based practice. He has managed all areas of statutory social work services, including being Director of Children’s Services most recently for Cornwall County Council, judged inadequate when he joined and outstanding when he retired last year. He has also managed early help, specialist, and education services.
We are delighted to have secured Jack’s interim help and are looking forward to learning along side and benefitting from his experience in improving the lives of children and families.
Launch of the public law reform report; the next steps for Cafcass
On 9 March, a virtual event took place to launch the final report published by the President of the Family Division, Public Law Working Group. The event was attended by over 1000 delegates from across the family justice system.
Cafcass is now playing an active role with partners to support the reforms, helping to lead new debates and practice discussions in public law that enable us to think together about the use of pre–proceedings, the rationales for decisions to issue proceedings and how we balance the use of state intervention in family life against our responsibilities to support families to stay together where it is safe and in children’s best interests for this to happen. We will be carefully reflecting on our commentary in reports to the family courts on, pre-proceedings, the help families are given, the reasons for issue and improved collaboration and shared thinking about care plans for children. We will also be working with our local authority partners to examine support for Care Orders at home, minimising the use of experts and revisiting the principles from the Children Act 1989, including the “no order” principle. The forthcoming workshop programme in partnership with ADCS will, we hope help us to share and discuss our work together and to establish a series of agreed improvement actions. We are hoping to establish improvement pairings in every English local authority between a local Cafcass senior manager and their equivalent local children’s services colleague. The purpose of this collaboration will be to think together about shared areas for change and improvement in pursuit of the recommendations of the Public Law working group reforms and Cafcass’ own improvement priorities.
The impact of longer public law proceedings
Children and young people have told us that delay in proceedings about them is the single most difficult issue for them. It compounds the uncertainty and fear about the future that is already such a frightening part of their lives and for many it is also affecting their mental and emotional health, let alone the planning for permanent arrangements. We know that in public law proceedings currently, the average case duration is 40 weeks and there are over 21,000 children in public law proceedings. Our data shows that 45% of infants under 1 are in proceedings lasting more than 26 weeks, and that 55% of children aged 1-5 are in the same situation. Nationally, Cafcass data shows that in the three areas with the worst delays, 40% of the youngest children are in the longest running proceedings. For these children, these delays consume highly significant periods of their young lives. We recognise that as a system we need to identify the cause of delays and understand what is happening to the most vulnerable children going through court proceedings. For this reason, we have just concluded, our second public law snapshot of delayed proceedings. Thank you to those local authorities (in excess of 80%) who took the time to complete the data return. We are compiling your reports now as well as the national narrative and we hope both will make a real difference to the focus of leaders nationally and locally. The next bulletin will provide significant detail on the plans and actions we have taken together in pursuit of the findings.
New Ofsted inspection framework and Cafcass focused visit
Last October, Ofsted began a consultation seeking views on proposals for a more effective and proportionate approach to its inspections of Cafcass. In March, Ofsted published the new inspection framework and the results of their consultation. The explicit intention is a framework more aligned to the framework for inspection of local authority children’s services.
The consultation heard a range of views from parents, families and professionals working in the family courts, receiving over 300 responses.
The new Ofsted approach includes:
- a three-yearly national judgement inspection
- focused visits between judgement inspections
- looking at a specific area of service/groups of children
- annual sharing of a self-evaluation of frontline practice in both public and private law
- an annual engagement meeting between Ofsted and the Cafcass chief executive and senior leadership team.
The new approach was introduced on 1 April 2021, and Ofsted undertook its focused visit of Cafcass on 12 April. Feedback was provided throughout the visit and we are expecting Ofsted’s letter of findings to be published in June. The letter will be posted on our website. A judgement inspection is expected to take place within the next 12-15 months.
Working with children through Covid-19 guidance updated
In January we made the decision to update our Working with Children During Covid-19 guidance to reflect the raised R rate and the new variants of coronavirus that were being transmitted at the time. Since then, we have reviewed the guidance every month to reflect the context of the reduced R rate and the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown.
The current guidance explains that we have returned to our preferred practice of seeing children in-person at least once during proceedings. For children involved in public law proceedings, our expectation is that they are seen regularly by the Children’s Guardian. Where this is not possible, we are requiring that FCAs clearly document the risk assessment they have undertaken, their rationale and the decision for not seeing the child in-person on the casefile.
We have also introduced and published a longer-term Engaging with and meeting children policy which will be operational beyond the pandemic. The new policy clearly sets out the expectation of all practitioners to see children at least once during proceedings, and in public law the need to see a child within 15 working days of the first lead allocation. This policy is intended to create consistency across our practice, allowing us to give the best possible service to the children and families with whom we work.