Cafcass to impose tough new practice standards on guardians

Family court practitioners may have to radically change their working practices under proposals to improve efficiency and focus on “early and intensive intervention”.

The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service’s new professional strategy, which went out to consultation this week, sets tough new timescales for allocating cases to children’s guardians.

By April 2007, it proposes, every child referred to Cafcass through the family courts will have a practitioner allocated to their case within two days.

And it says practitioners’ pay should be linked to performance against national benchmarks.

Chief executive Anthony Douglas said that, although cases in some areas were allocated within hours, it could take several weeks in others, particularly London.

He said the strategy, Every Day Matters, was applying the performance standards of Cafcass’s best teams to all 120. Staff will have to use resources proportionately, while meeting minimum service standards, because of the continuing financial problems the organisation faces. Cafcass is struggling to offer staff an acceptable pay rise and is also under pressure to deliver training and IT upgrades.

The strategy says staff should focus on “what is necessary, not what might be possible in an ideal world”.

Douglas also wants Cafcass to become “more of a commissioning organisation” in private law contact and residence cases. “Sometimes we need perpetrator programmes, or sometimes family therapy approaches, but it’s unrealistic and not healthy for us to try to provide all those services directly,” he said.

The strategy suggests that Cafcass could use “escalation procedures” in public law cases to ensure care plans are validated quickly. Practitioners will be encouraged to ask managers to intervene when they are making little progress with local authorities.

Alison Paddle, chair of guardian’s organisation Nagalro, was concerned that the strategy pointed to Cafcass becoming a more “heavily managed, bureaucratic service”.

Although she welcomed the emphasis on early intervention and said there was a need to “look at what’s effective”, she feared that more money would be spent on managers who would restrict practitioners’ involvement in cases, leading to a dilution in the service to children.

  • Every Day Matters from
  • Workers voted last week at the Cafcass union conference to end the direct involvement of children in employment interviews for family court workers. Last July Cafcass piloted a scheme inviting young people to take part in the interview process, and said this was “standard practice in child care organisations”.

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