Directors of children’s services and Cafcass have published a new document designed to “resolve disagreements” between local authorities and family court guardians about social work evidence in court.
Published today, Cafcass and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) said the agreement was a bid to help develop a collaborative approach to care proceedings in the face of record demand.
The guidance sets out how children’s guardians and social workers should work together on assessments, care plans and pre-proceedings work.
“This agreement represents a commitment to developing a collaborative approach designed to resolve disagreements between the local authority and Cafcass about the social work evidence base being relied on in decision-making,” the agreement said.
“In our view, two social work agencies with the same professional standards and training should be able to agree on the evidence base on which recommendations about the future of the most vulnerable children in the country will be based.
It sets out a commitment that guardians examine social work evidence before they put forward a different position in court, to see if the evidence can be agreed on.
Cafcass has committed itself to sharing national and local-level data with local authorities to better understand thresholds for care and removal. Local authorities have committed to informing Cafcass about imminent applications, while Cafcass guardians will reach views about assessments and care plans “at the earliest possible opportunity”.
The agreement sets out how Cafcass and local authorities should work together on certain parts of care proceedings:
Guidance for working together on assessments
- The guardian role is to analyse local authority assessments, not repeat them. “The guardian should always carry out enough direct work of their own to be able to give effective primary evidence in court.”
- If there are clear gaps, the guardian can identify how they can be bridged. The guardian and social worker should be able to make recommendations about the child’s situation in the interim and be clear about timetabling or case management issues in the interim.
- To be effective means “reaching agreement if possible on the main narrative in the case”. This includes the reason for proceedings, the analysis of the impact on the child, what needs to be done to bring about positive change for the child during proceedings and throughout childhood.
Guidance for working together on care plans
- For both social worker and guardian, the plan should flow from the evidence base. “It would be unusual if an agreed evidence base led to different conclusions about the way forward but if it does, attempts should be made to resolve differences out of court before referring the issue to the court.” These discussions should include the independent reviewing officer.
Guidance for working together pre-proceedings
- Using the principles of schemes like Cafcass plus to allow for early scrutiny of local authority cases, with an aim to either divert cases away from care proceedings, or narrowing down the issues.
Andrew Webb, the ADCS lead on family justice, said the agreement “confirms the expertise of social workers in the courts”.
He added: “The commitments made by both ADCS and Cafcass will help not only on a day-to-day basis, but on supporting the system which is under continuing demand and financial pressure and shows no signs of easing.”
Anthony Douglas, the chief executive of Cafcass, said the agreement “reaffirms the positive working practices already in place across most local authorities and Cafcass”.