Cafcass has received its fourth damning inspection report from Ofsted in a year.
The Birmingham and Black Country service was rated inadequate overall after inspectors found it was failing to meet minimum standards in key services.
Ofsted’s report, published yesterday, cited inconsistency in the quality of assessments, case planning, recording and some court reporting. There were also “unacceptable” delays in providing services to children in public and private law cases, putting them at risk. Particular concern was raised over delays of up to 20 weeks in allocating private law cases.
One-third of case plans and records were judged inadequate, and reports and recommendations to the court were also deemed inadequate. Inspectors cited “illegible” case notes and poor spelling in some cases.
There were also “unacceptable variations” in the quality of direct work with children, the inspection in the week starting 12 January found.
The contribution of the service area to improving outcomes for children was also rated inadequate. However Ofsted rated the service as satisfactory on safeguarding, performance management and workforce development, leadership, handling complaints and in its capacity to improve.
It said the recently-appointed senior manager for the area had identified appropriate strategic priorities and there was a “very recent trend” in improvement, with a stronger focus on quality of practice.
Safeguarding a priority
Ofsted said that safeguarding – a problem area in previous inspections of Cafcass regions – was a priority in the area with good practice in both public and private law. Training on domestic violence was highly regarded by staff but in a small minority of cases the impact of domestic violence on children had not been considered in sufficient depth.
Recommendations included the eradication of the backlog of private and public law cases within three months.
Fourth critical report
Yesterday’s inspection report was the fourth critical report on Cafcass since Ofsted took over inspection of the body last year.
Last August, an inspection of the experience of Cafcass service users in South Yorkshire rated private law practice as “inadequate” and public law “adequate”.
This matched the findings of an inspection in May on the South East region, while another report last February on the East Midlands rated services inadequate overall.
After the publication of the South Yorkshire report last August, Cafcass’ chief executive Anthony Douglas vowed to improve practice.
Subsequently, Cafcass’s Near South West region – comprising Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Avon – received an adequate rating overall in an inspection published last month.
And following yesterday’s report, Cafcass pointed out that inspectors had found “significant steps” had been taken to improve services in Birmingham and the Black Country.
Douglas said: “I am pleased that the intensive improvements we are making to our services in Birmingham and the Black Country have been acknowledged. It will take eighteen months more to improve consistently across the country as we are changing fundamental working practices and that takes time.”
New inspection system
The Near South West and Birmingham and Black Country inspections were the first two of three pilot checks under a new system that Ofsted intends to introduce this year, in order to tighten up regulation of the family court body.
In September last year, Ofsted published proposals for reform, including making failing Cafcass service areas subject to more frequent inspections. Ofsted is set to announce the final plan at the end of March.