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Cafcass judged to be ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted following full inspection


Ofsted has today published the report of its full inspection of Cafcass which took place earlier this year. The framework for inspection requires Ofsted to make a graded judgement in three areas of Cafcass’ work:  

  • The quality and effectiveness of private law practice  

  • The quality and effectiveness of public law practice  

  • The impact of leaders on practice  

In all three areas, practice and leadership were judged to be outstanding.  

The inspection, which took place between 22 January and 16 February 2024, was carried out in accordance with Ofsted’s Cafcass inspection framework. Inspectors evaluated a range of evidence, including the case records of over 600 children. They spoke with more than 300 practitioners and managers and observed court work and interviews with children and families as well as supervisions and team meetings. Complaints were examined, alongside quality assurance data and arrangements for management oversight of practice and strategic leadership. Inspectors spoke with partners including judges, local authorities, the Family Justice Young People’s Board, the Cafcass Family Forum and officials at both the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Education.  

In the report, Ofsted notes that Cafcass’ ‘outstanding’ rating across all judgements marks an improvement since its previous full inspection in 2018, when, the quality and effectiveness of Cafcass’ public and private law practice was judged to be ‘good’.  

The report describes an organisation with an ‘unstinting’ focus on children’s safety, ensuring that their voices are not just heard, but understood. Inspectors reported on consistently high standards of practice, resulting in high-quality advice being provided to the family court that is in the best interests of children.  

Headline findings include: 

  • Child engagement is strong and highly effective. Practitioners take time to understand how best to communicate with children, considering any disabilities or communication needs they may have. Children and their best interests are at the centre of decision-making that is clear and understandable for all involved.  

  • The quality of private law practice has continued to improve, and this is making an exceptional difference to children’s experiences. Family Court Advisers (FCAs) navigate this hugely complex, emotive and challenging area of work with great skill, respect and appropriate rigor. 

  • Family Court Advisers (FCAs) are attuned to the varied and nuanced risks children face as a result of adult-based issues such as parental conflict, domestic abuse and substances misuse. When undertaking safeguarding interviews with adults, FCAs are able to skilfully elicit key information and negotiate adults through ‘often intractable, highly sensitive situations’. 

  • Children’s Guardians sensitively help children to write to judges and to speak with them virtually or in person when they wish to do so. This powerfully brings children’s wishes to the heart of decision-making in the courts.  

  • Children’s Guardians focus on the safety and well-being of children to make ‘consistently meaningful, evidence-based and invaluable’ recommendations to the family court. This work has a tangible and positive impact on children’s lives. 

  • Children’s Guardians bring skill and expertise to their work with children during care proceedings, allowing them to quickly build trusting and meaningful relationships. Since the previous inspection, practice has continued to improve from an already strong base. 

  • Senior leaders are credible, visible and highly respected by the workforce due to their relentless child focus and straightforward approach. They inspire managers and staff to perform well. Strategic partnerships with relevant stakeholders are extremely strong. 

  • Since the previous inspection, there is a palpable cultural change across the workforce via a new relationship-based model of practice. With a real focus on what matters most to children, the model has been embraced by an overwhelming majority of staff and it has been instrumental in promoting practice that is kind, sensitive and respectful, with children’s welfare and safety at the forefront of thinking. 

Cafcass Chief Executive, Jacky Tiotto said:

“I would like to extend the biggest thank you to everyone working at Cafcass, to our partners and to the Cafcass Board for helping to secure this important outcome. We welcome challenge and scrutiny and take very seriously the feedback that we received throughout the inspection and in this report published today. The whole organisation is committed to children, their families and carers and every single person works relentlessly to keep trying to learn and improve.   

One of the most important things inspectors reported was that they saw evidence of Family Court Advisers and Children’s Guardians giving critical and enduring advice to the family court, that centres on children’s safety, welfare and best interests. They saw complex information being carefully and sensitively balanced to try and secure the right arrangements for families and their children. This is what we exist to do for a huge number (c143,000) of children every year. All our advice and every single decision matters. I am so pleased that our focus and ambitions in this regard are making a difference and supporting continuous improvement and change for children. 

We are now working on the next phase of our strategic plan –'Ambitious for children’ and intend to use the inspection feedback and recommendations as part of our ‘Listening to children, Lighting the way’ improvement plan review and reset. There is always more to do when it comes to helping children and their families and so on we go!” 

Chair of the Cafcass Board, Sally Cheshire said:

“The Board members and I could not be more pleased with this judgement from Ofsted. We believe strongly in the work that Cafcass does to support children and families and are delighted that Ofsted has seen and recognised the tangible and consistent improvements we have made to enhance the quality of our service since the last inspection in 2018. It is a real privilege to have been able to influence and support that improvement and I would like to recognise the huge effort and commitment of all our staff in doing their very best to support each and every child through the difficult pandemic period and beyond. We remain ambitious for the children and young people we represent, committed to learning and further improving consistency in our work, focused with our partners on reducing delay and acting in children’s best interests - in short, raising the bar so that each child receives an exceptional experience.”  

A member of the Family Justice Young People’s Board (FJYPB) said:

“I really enjoyed meeting with the Ofsted inspectors as they seemed to be very interested in the work of the FJYPB and I think the results from the inspection accurately reflect the keenness of Cafcass as an organisation to take into account the work of the FJYPB and their desire to improve the experiences for children and young people in court proceedings."