Cafcass has been able to deactivate prioritisation in four family courts
Cafcass has announced that four family courts will no longer be subject to the prioritisation protocol with effect from today. The protocol, introduced in 2021, was a response by Cafcass that became necessary to manage the pressures on its open active children’s cases which had risen to unmanageable levels during the Covid–19 pandemic.
The four main aims of prioritisation are to ensure the timely allocation of all public law cases; reduce the caseloads of Family Court Advisers (FCAs) to manageable levels; protect the capacity to undertake management oversight and supervision; and maintain the quality of practice experienced by children, families and the courts.
The four courts coming out of prioritisation today are:
Both courts in our South Yorkshire and Humberside service area:
- South Yorkshire
Two out of four courts in our Birmingham, the Black Country, Shropshire, Worcestershire, Staffordshire and Herefordshire service area:
- Telford & Wolverhampton
Our West Yorkshire service area de-activated prioritisation in May 2022.
Today’s announcement has been made possible by all those involved in the family justice system at a local level recognising that the pressures affect the whole system and working together to prevent and de-activate prioritisation.
The approach when operating under the prioritisation protocol, involves Cafcass working with the courts to triage children’s cases in private law proceedings on the basis of risk and capacity, as identified in the initial assessment (the safeguarding letter) that Cafcass files to the court. Those children’s cases likely to need further Cafcass involvement are prioritised by those that need to be allocated to a FCA to start work within normal timescales, and those which are less urgent that can be allocated to an experienced Practice Supervisor for oversight until internal capacity allows for safe allocation.
Following today’s announcement, the courts in which the prioritisation protocol remains activated are:
- Birmingham & Solihull
- Stoke & Stafford
- Coventry & Northampton
- Greater Manchester
- Essex, Suffolk & Norfolk
Plans are in now place to de-activate the prioritisation protocol in four of these court areas by the end of December (Birmingham & Solihull; Stoke & Stafford, Coventry; and Northampton).
Cafcass continues to manage higher volumes of children’s cases than before the Covid-19 pandemic. The number of children’s cases is still 13% higher (affecting more than 6,000 children) than in March 2020, with particular pressures continuing in many of the areas where prioritisation is still in operation. Whilst everything that can be done is being done to prevent prioritisation, it will remain a required option until the backlog created by the pandemic is resolved.
Cafcass Chief Executive, Jacky Tiotto, said:
“The family justice system remains under intense pressure and children are the most disadvantaged by long delays in many places. Cafcass’ first priority is to protect children in proceedings and to promote their welfare. This work can only be done well when Family Court Advisers have safe enough workloads and managers have the capacity to support and supervise them. Until and unless the pressure on us and the courts reduces, we will continue to use prioritisation to enable our staff to work effectively, liaising closely with our partners to make sure that this only happens when there are no alternative ways of working to protect children who need the help of the family courts.”