Partners e-bulletin January 2022
The contribution of Cafcass to the implementation of the recommendations of the President’s public law working group
Cafcass has made a commitment to support the implementation of the recommendations of the President’s Public Law Working Group. An important aspect of our commitment is to develop ‘practice quality standards’ in public law that set out what good looks like in our public law practice. Whilst it is the purpose and function of Cafcass to set out standards of practice and to hold managers and practitioners accountable for those standards, they do not compromise the independence or professional judgment of the child’s guardian in assessing an individual child’s needs and advising the court about how to improve the life of the child and their future.
The practice quality standards can be found here.
Practice quality standards show how we put our policies into action and are meaningful for FCAs and the people with whom we work. The practice quality standards have been created collaboratively and following extensive consultation – both internally and externally. They are framed as guided self-reflection or self-supervision, rather than detailed practice guidance.
The current set of practice quality standards cover:
- Seeing and engaging with children and young people
- Scrutinising the support for and work with families prior to court proceedings
- Analysing the care plan for the child
- Questioning the appropriateness of care orders at home
- Supporting best practice in Special Guardianship
- Surfacing the impact of delay for children and young people
- Working with the child’s social worker and independent reviewing officer
Feedback internally and externally indicate that the practice quality standards are well-received. Both experienced and new FCAs have seen their value. Colleagues have asked for additional standards and these are being developed by a working group.
In addition to the practice quality standards, we are undertaking a scoping exercise to understand the prevalence and variability in these aspects of public law in our regions. We are planning joint workshops with local authority partners in 2022. We will hold discussions with local authority partners and local judiciary to discuss public law practice, seeking mutual feedback and identifying learning.
We have activated the prioritisation protocol and opened allocation hubs in six of our 19 service areas, serving 14 courts in England. This is caused by a combination of demand pressures and capacity challenges. In terms of demand pressures: the increased numbers of orders for reports in private law which were rising before the pandemic; the backlog resulting from the pandemic; and the increased time it is taking for the courts to dispose of children’s cases, which often requires additional work by Cafcass. In terms of capacity challenges: a rise in staff sickness; recruitment and retention difficulties; and the additional demands on frontline managers. These have driven up the numbers of children’s cases held by family court advisers and service managers, which if not prioritised would impact on the quality of practice.
We monitor the impact of these pressures on the capacity of our service to allocate work to family court advisers, and where this is compromised, we initiate discussions with local judiciary and other partners to seek joint measures to mitigate the challenges outlined above. If these measures take time to work, we consider activating prioritisation and opening an allocation hub.
The allocation hubs opened under prioritisation, assist in ensuring that children’s cases that are urgent or where the family circumstances pose a risk to the welfare of children are prioritised. Longer timescales are agreed with the court for completing reports in less urgent cases. The children’s cases held in the allocation hub are closely monitored by a senior practitioner, providing families and courts with a single point of contact.
The protocol has been successful in that it has helped to manage the number of children’s cases allocated to Family Court Advisers. It has helped to bring down the number of duty children’s cases held by service managers so that they have the time for management oversight, supervision and support of FCAs with the aim of maintaining the quality of our service to children and families and courts. We are currently in the process of evaluating the learning from the last six months in which the Protocol has been implemented.
Co-parent hub content is now on the Cafcass website
The parenting together section gives parents and families access to a range of information and educational programmes to help families understand the needs of children when parents separate, and the impact of conflict on them. It can help with seeking mediation, advice on how to effectively co-parent and out of court options.
This new section of the Cafcass website builds on the digital resources previously provided by the Co-Parent Hub. Co-Parent Hub was relaunched in 2020 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic with a focus on helping to support separated families through the impact of the pandemic. Building on the success of this initiative, it has now been taken it out of pilot phase and has been integrated it into the Cafcass website.
The new section includes the Parenting Plan, information on the Separating Parents Information Programme, mediation and information on how to better listen to children during separation and when co-parenting.
Separated Parenting Information Programmes (SPIPs) to be available to parents before the first hearing
Family Court Advisers can now refer parents to complete a SPIP before the first hearing and without a court order if it is safe and appropriate to make the referral. FCAs must have completed their safeguarding enquiries – including speaking to both parents/carers – before deciding whether it is suitable to refer the parents to the course directly.
Alternatively, the Court can refer parents to SPIP by ordering it through a court order. The courts will then send a copy of the court order directly to Cafcass who will make a referral to the nearest SPIP provider and inform the parents.
Private law reform
Throughout 2021, Cafcass scoped its private law transformation programme to develop a new model for our work in private law from 2023 onwards. This work will design and test a differentiated approach to working with children and families – tailored to their needs and drawing on some of the approaches we are helping to deliver with a range of local partners in Dorset as part of Ministry of Justice’s Private Law Pathfinder.
Cafcass’ own transformation work comprises four key workstreams: 1) a new core assessment model; 2) A Ministry of Justice reform Pathfinder; 3) a revised offer for complex cases; and 4) better information and resources for children and families. The project will provide a tailored service based on the unique requirements and needs of the child and their family, focussing on immediate changes that will manage demand, reduce delay for children and families and make better use of social work resource. We will offer a more holistic early assessment combined with a range of support from self-help resources through to more structured interventions to support change in more complex cases, including those involving domestic abuse. Cafcass pilots are being planned in up to five areas for 2022, and where these have any external facing element, partners will be approached for input and collaboration.