Cafcass is subject to regular inspection by Ofsted in accordance with its inspection framework.
The framework, introduced in April 2021, sets out how Ofsted inspects the quality and effectiveness of our private and public law practice with children and families and the impact of our leaders on private and public law practice with children and families. In evaluating the impact of our service, the inspection also evaluates how well we positively influence the effectiveness of the family justice system both locally and nationally.
Our last full Ofsted inspection was in 2018 when we were rated as ‘Outstanding’. You can read more about the 2018 inspection below as well as about the more recent ‘focused visits’ which Ofsted made to Cafcass in 2021 and 2023.
In March 2018, we were inspected by Ofsted for the second time. Ofsted rated Cafcass as ‘Outstanding’ and praised the continuous improvement against a backdrop of rising demand since our last inspection in 2014.
Summary of key findings:
Exceptional, aspirational corporate and operational leaders work relentlessly to ensure that children and their families benefit from good or outstanding services. Shared priorities are communicated clearly. Listening to children, understanding their world, and acting on their views are strongly embedded in practice in both public and private law. This is enhanced by the splendid work carried out by the influential Family Justice Young People’s Board (FJYPB).
Since the last inspection, the chief executive, together with the national service director and supported by an effective and active board, have worked diligently to develop and support a culture of continuous learning and improvement. Stability of leadership and strong aspirations to ‘get it right’ for vulnerable children are key factors in their success. The vast majority of Cafcass staff at all levels consistently provide excellent quality services for children, their families and the family courts.
Cafcass’ highly evolved and mature strategic relationships with its key family justice partners (Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Services (HMCTS), the Judiciary and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) have led to creative and innovative services nationally and locally. The chief executive and the national service director are held in high regard. They work tirelessly, driving much needed development and reform to meet the increasing levels of demand.
Cafcass practitioners’ effective and authoritative practice adds value and leads to better outcomes for the majority of children. In most cases, family court advisers (FCAs) and children’s guardians provide the courts with cogent, well-balanced and analytical risk assessments. These help the courts to make child-centred and safe decisions.
Strong, evidence-based and succinct reports minimise the need for experts. They also reduce delay and the need for further appointments. In a very small number of cases seen, delay in establishing children’s views and progressing cases quickly enough was linked to poor case planning.
Most direct work is well planned, done at the child’s pace, and ensures that the child understands what is happening. Reports are enhanced by using the child’s own words, resulting in the powerful voice of children informing recommendations to the court. Inspectors observed some highly sensitive, knowledgeable work in relation to a wide range of diversity issues.
Performance management is a key priority. A rigorous, strength-based performance framework supports the delivery of good and outstanding services nationally and locally. Key strengths and areas for development, identified accurately in Cafcass’ self-assessment, are used to inform both management understanding of the quality of practice and individual staff development. Senior managers have clear plans in place to help staff improve the consistency of performance learning reviews (PLRs) and case planning, and to ensure that relevant diversity issues are fully considered.
Strong governance arrangements are firmly in place, augmented by a culture of professional accountability and respectful challenge at every level across the organisation. Cafcass has successfully implemented a model of proportionate working to address demand on services. Despite having high workloads, staff who spoke to inspectors felt extremely positive about working for an organisation in which they are treated well, as professional adults, and where their views and needs are important and highly valued.
The national business centre (NBC) is exceptionally well-managed, effective and efficient. This means that Cafcass’ services for children benefit from the support of a coherent and expertly co-ordinated range of centralised systems. Business services and social work staff are skilled and committed.
The full report can be found on the Ofsted website.
Ofsted published its letter of findings following a focused visit to Cafcass in January. During the visit, Ofsted sought to understand how Cafcass is discharging its statutory functions for children in the context of continuing significant demand for its services – at the time of this visit, there were approximately 6,600 (14%) more children open to Cafcass than before the pandemic.
The focused visit was carried out in accordance with Ofsted’s framework for the inspection of Cafcass. Inspectors considered a range of evidence, including case discussions with social workers and managers, and observations of practice. They also reviewed Cafcass data, performance and quality assurance arrangements, case records and spoke with partner agencies, senior judges and lead officials in the family justice system.
Headline findings from the Ofsted visit include:
- Despite the significant impact of the high demand, Cafcass has sustained and improved the focus on children’s safety and welfare. Senior leaders have led and developed creative and highly effective strategies in collaboration with key national and regional partners to continue to deliver high-quality services to children, families and the family courts.
- Despite unprecedented demand, Cafcass continues to meet its statutory responsibilities for children.
- Since the previous Ofsted focused visit in April 2021, the quality of social work practice remains strong and, overall, continues to improve.
- Cafcass’ national and regional improvement plans demonstrate that leaders know where the consistency of practice and management oversight need to improve, and which new policies and frameworks require further embedding.
- There is a clear focus on improving children’s experiences and lives.
In June 2021, Ofsted published its letter of findings following a focused visit to Cafcass in April. During the visit, Ofsted sought to understand how we have maintained the quality of our practice and the impact of our decision-making on children’s lives in the context of Covid-19. The visit was undertaken in accordance with the inspection framework for Cafcass published in March 2021.