Ofsted critical of Cafcass safeguarding in Durham inspection

Ofsted has slammed family court body Cafcass for the quality of its safeguarding in a report on its Durham and Tees Valley service area, published today.

Inspectors gave the Durham and Tees Valley region an overall rating of ‘inadequate’, in large part because of safeguarding failings. In contrast, inspectors found that the region’s capacity to improve, leadership, management and planning, case planning and recording, partnership working and value for money were ‘satisfactory’, while service responsiveness was rated as good.

Three critical inspections

Inspectors lambasted Cafcass’s safeguarding performance, particularly in private law, in three inspections last year, prompting chief executive Anthony Douglas (pictured below) to make it a priority for improvement.

Safeguarding was rated as satisfactory in trial inspections of Cafcass’s Birmingham and Black Country and Near South West regions, conducted under a new Ofsted methodology earlier this year.

Five cases not handled appropriately

However, today’s report, marking the third trial of the inspection methodology, said there were five cases where serious safeguarding concerns had not been responded to appropriately by practitioners or their managers, including instances of alleged domestic violence.

Ofsted referred all of these cases to the head of service requesting an urgent review, though it said no child was at immediate risk of significant harm. Inspectors also found that case files indicated “variable and inconsistent practice in regard to risk assessment”.


Douglas said: “The inadequacies in our safeguarding practice, while not placing any individual child at risk, are unacceptable. Immediate steps were taken to ensure full compliance with our policies and procedures.”

He added: “I have said before that it will take eighteen months more to improve consistently across the country as we are changing fundamental working practices and that takes time.”

The service area was also rated as inadequate on performance management and workforce development, complaint handling engagement with children, assessment and intervention and direct work with children and in meeting the five Every Child Matters outcomes for children.

Every Child Matters controversy

The latter criterion, a new objective for Cafcass under Ofsted’s revised methodology, has proved controversial with Douglas saying it is a challenge for the family court body to meet the five outcomes because it handles children’s cases only briefly.

Ofsted said the Durham service area was meeting most of its key performance indicators and exceeding some, and that service managers understood the challenges it had to overcome.


The inspectorate’s recommendations included:-

  • Ensuring children and young people are safeguarded through consistent compliance with the Cafcass safeguarding policy in all cases.
  • Ensuring consistent quality assurance of practice.
  • Fulfilling the statutory duty to cooperate in all local safeguarding children boards.

Brian Brown, Cafcass’s head of service for Durham and Tees Valley, added: “We are aware of what we need to do to improve and I am confident that my teams will rise to the challenge as they are a committed and dedicated workforce.”

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