Family courts agency Cafcass is losing “highly experienced” staff due to big cuts in the use of self-employed practitioners, according to guardians body Nagalro.
The professional association said that self-employed family court advisers (FCAs) were being driven out, after Cafcass confirmed cutting £8.6m from its annual expenditure on external staff since 2001.
Figures obtained by Community Care show Cafcass has halved its spend on self-employed contractors in the past seven years, from £17.5m in 2001-2 to £8.9m in 2007-8.
Cafcass chief executive Anthony Douglas (right) said the policy was to ensure value-for-money within a stable workforce. External contractors are now used only as back-up to the organisation’s in-house staff and their continued use must be justified. “Many organisations use contractors to manage peaks in demand and Cafcass is no exception,” he added.
But responding to the figures for Nagalro, Alison Paddle said the trend of employing fewer £25-an-hour contractors represented a loss of highly experienced practitioners who were “able to use their professional judgement in complex cases”.
When Cafcass was established in 2001 in England there were 750 independent guardians working in public law cases, making up 85% of the workforce. The proportion of independent practitioners now stands at 23% with a total of 365 compared with 1,200 Cafcass-employed FCAs.
Paddle (right) said most self-employed practitioners were senior social workers who felt “that they are able to exercise their professional autonomy in other roles and for other agencies within the family courts” rather than with Cafcass.
Douglas said that turnover of Cafcass practitioners was less than 7%. FCAs are recruited with seven years’ post-qualifying social work experience on average.