Cafcass faces shake-up but review rules out abolition

Family courts body Cafcass will be reformed but not abolished if recommendations made today by the Family Justice Review are accepted by the government, Community Care understands. The news will be welcomed by Cafcass chief executive Anthony Douglas (pictured), who insisted that the body was "fit for purpose".

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Family courts body Cafcass will be reformed but not abolished if recommendations made today by the Family Justice Review are accepted by the government, Community Care understands.

The Family Justice Review panel was due to publish its interim report today (Thursday), reforming some of the ways in which Cafcass delivers services to children and families in England. Full details were not known at the time of going to press.

Community Care also understands the review will recommend that the same judge sits on a family court case for its entire duration, whenever possible. This follows claims from family court staff, including guardians and lawyers, that cases are delayed when judges change.

The recommendations follow dissatisfaction with how the family justice system operates, culminating in calls last week for Cafcass to be abolished.

Martha Cover, of the Interdisciplinary Alliance for Children, which represents more than 15 organisations, including lawyers, doctors and social workers, told MPs on the justice select committee: “We have anxiously considered the possibility of reform rather than abolition, but we have come to the conclusion that the inability of [Cafcass] to change to meet the concerns of the other partners in the family justice system are such that we simply have to start again.”

Cover blamed Cafcass’s “overly centralised service and top-heavy, hierarchical managerial structure”, which she said insufficiently valued the independence and autonomy of family court guardians and family court reporters.

“It is also an extremely expensive model to deliver,” she said, adding that the alliance proposed an alternative that could deliver a better, cheaper service by “removing huge layers of management”.

Anthony Douglas, chief executive of Cafcass, defended the organisation. “We deal with 140,000 children every year – about the largest number of children any single organisation is dealing with. Our performance has improved considerably. One year ago we had over 1,000 unallocated caseswe now have just seven. We are fit for purpose.”

A Cafcass spokesperson said the organisation had a lean management structure, but recognised that practitioners needed access to experienced managers.

Review chair David Norgrove told Community Care in September that the family justice system was “not working and needed streamlining”. He said there was a tendency within the family courts for professionals and organisations to blame each other for systemic problems. He insisted no single party was to blame.

The review panel will publish its final report in the autumn, after a consultation period.

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