Domestic Abuse Practice Improvement Programme
Understanding the impact of domestic abuse on children and families is one of the five practice improvement priorities in our National Improvement Plan and individual operational service area improvement plans.
In June 2020, the Ministry of Justice’s Expert Panel on Harm in the Family Courts published a report setting out the improvements needed to enable the family justice system to better meets the needs of children and families experiencing domestic abuse. In response, Cafcass prioritised domestic abuse as one of its five practice improvement priorities, to be overseen by a new Learning and Improvement Board, with members drawn from the Family Justice Young People’s Board, individuals with lived experience of domestic abuse and the family court, and professional partners.
In addition to the findings and recommendations of the Harm Panel, feedback from children and adults with lived experience of domestic abuse, and the advice of Learning and Improvement Board members, our improvement priorities were informed by learning from a practice quality audit in 2021, which has provided the baseline for monitoring progress and improvement. The learning from the audit process benefited from moderation by members of the Learning Improvement Board. We committed to measuring our progress through annual practice quality audits focussed on domestic abuse.
Our Domestic Abuse Learning and Improvement plan was published in June 2021. The improvement plan set our priorities across four areas of our work:
- The effectiveness of management oversight
- The quality and impact of practice undertaken by Family Court Advisers
- The way we increase opportunities for feedback from children and families
- Our influence as a key partner in the family justice system
From Autumn 2023 this work is being overseen by a new Living With and Experience of Domestic Abuse: Practice Reference Group. The group will be co-chaired by a member of the Family Justice Young People’s Board (FJYPB) and a secondee to Cafcass from SafeLives and will include experts and those with lived experience of domestic abuse.
What we have done
- A mandatory Domestic Abuse Learning and Development Programme is in place for all Family Court Advisers along with Domestic Abuse Personal Learning Plans to support practice improvements. It has been completed by 95% of those eligible, with a rolling programme available and required for new employees.
- An updated Domestic Abuse Practice Pathway and Guidance, to support Family Court Advisers in working with children and families affected by domestic abuse. Partners, parents and young people with lived experience of domestic abuse provided feedback which shaped and influenced the content of our pathway, guidance and practice aids.
- Practice Quality and Management Quality Standards that set the baseline for effective practice. They are intended to enable consistency and clarity about the quality and the impact that should be expected in our work. The standards promote reflection in practice and apply from the outset of our work with children and families.
- A revised Assessment and Child’s Plan, with a section for Family Court Advisers to share recommendations with children and to record their views. When a child’s case continues beyond the first hearing, under an order for a Section 7 assessment, Family Court Advisers will meet with a child to understand what life is like for them, to assess the impact of any past or current harm, risk of future harm and to hear about their wishes, feelings and hopes for the future. Family Court Advisers are expected to explain their reasoning and to share their recommendations with children and adults before submitting them to court.
- A refreshed Supervision Policy which includes triggers for situational case supervision between a Family Court Adviser and their manager where a case outcome in court differs from the Family Court Adviser’s recommendations, and there is a concern that the child remains at risk of harm.
- A comprehensive system for collating and reporting on feedback as the basis for continuous learning, along with a dedicated telephone line for young people called Hear to Listen for young people to share their experiences of their engagement with their Family Court Adviser.
- A relationship-based practice framework, Together with children and families, was introduced in 2021. The framework sets out a clear expectation to engage with children and families by developing trusting relationships built on listening, understanding, clear reasoning, respect and integrity. This is especially important for our work with families that have experienced domestic abuse where Family Court Advisers need to build a trusting relationship with a child and parent who may be traumatised, so that they feel safe enough to share their experience.
- A refocused complaints framework (available on our Policy page), which gives families more time to consider whether they wish to make a complaint and has a strong emphasis on listening and learning from the concerns they raise. Complaints do not prejudice the way we work with a family, and we will resolve things quickly where possible, especially for children.
- A partnership with SafeLives; Two senior SafeLives domestic abuse experts have joined Cafcass on secondment for 12 months to work alongside Cafcass practitioners. SafeLives has been a critical friend to Cafcass over the last four years, working closely with us to strengthen our Domestic Abuse Practice Pathway and Guidance. The secondees are participating in practice learning reviews in children’s cases where domestic abuse is known or alleged, so that learning can be shared and embedded in practice.
What difference is all this making?
You can find annual updates on the progress of our Domestic Abuse Learning and Improvement Plan below:
We undertake annual audits of the quality and impact of practice where domestic abuse is known or alleged. These audits are undertaken by our National Improvement Service and the moderations are supported by members of the Family Justice Young People’s Board and the Family Forum who have lived experience of domestic abuse and going through the family courts. Audits have found that the overall quality of our practice in private law where domestic abuse is known or alleged is improving against the quality standards set out in our internal improvement programme.
Specifically, some of the improvements have been in:
- the quality and sensitivity of safeguarding interviews to support the early disclosure of domestic abuse.
- working sensitively with children to understand what life is like for them and what they think about who they live and spend time with, using language that is thoughtful, and sensitive to the experience of trauma.
- the ability of our Family Court Advisers to recognise the distinction between domestic abuse and harmful conflict, with appropriate assessment of all incidents of domestic abuse, regardless of when it happened.
- completing enquiries with relevant agencies who know the family and/or child.
- the clarity of assessment of harm, risk of harm and the impact of domestic abuse on children, and how this assessment has informed recommendations to the court.
Cafcass is committed to ensuring that these improvements are implemented consistently so that all children and families where domestic abuse is known or alleged experience exceptional practice, everywhere and every time.