In “Cafcass in Crisis”, a parliamentary briefing paper published today, Napo, which represents probation officers and other family court staff, claims that the 70% rise in care applications since the Baby P case in November 2008 has sent the family courts body into “meltdown”.
Napo assistant general secretary Harry Fletcher said caseloads had almost doubled for many practitioners and Cafcass’ management’s response had been to “cajole, bully and intimidate staff into accepting the unacceptable”.
The union has also claimed that Cafcass managers were preoccupied with targets and monitoring and those staff who expressed negative thoughts about practices in place were “systematically brought into line”. More than 40 staff in one region are understood to have joined a social network website to share their concerns and fears.
Fletcher said that, if Cafcass did not issue a “positive response” before the end of the year about how these issues would be resolved, Napo would ballot its 650 Cafcass members on industrial action.
Cafcass chief executive Anthony Douglas has hit back at Napo’s accusations, calling many of them “wildly and factually inaccurate”, including the figures on unallocated care cases, spending on agency staff and staff turnover.
On claims of bullying, Cafcass said: “We make no apology for supporting staff to improve performance. Where performance is not as it should be we will support staff to improve.”
The courts body said claims from Napo members that their experiences at work were “not unlike those experienced by a victim of domestic abuse”, were “deeply offensive” and “completely inaccurate.”
Douglas said Napo’s claims that Cafcass had stopped using self-employed guardians in London to save costs was not true. “We continue to use self-employed contractors (SECs).” In the six months ending in October this year, 300 cases were allocated to SECs compared with 264 in the same period in 2008, he added.