High-cost family court teams face budget cuts and less time on cases

High-cost Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service teams are to have their budgets slashed and be expected to match the efficiency levels of low spenders.

The move is part of a package of measures, published in a report this week, to increase investment in front-line practice and supervision after some critical inspection reports.

In 2005-6, Cafcass spent 133 hours on average on each care case. Cutting this to 100 hours – the level of the most efficient teams – without reducing quality would release £6m to invest in front-line practice, the report says.

With Cafcass receiving the same budget for the past two years and future increases unlikely, efficiency gains are seen as the key to improving quality.

Cafcass says the reduced budgets will be phased in over one to two years to allow local teams to adjust. But areas with higher needs, such as  where caseloads have a higher percentage of sibling groups, will have these taken into account.

However, staff representatives are likely to argue that the package will threaten quality.

The number of senior management posts will be slashed to save more than £500,000 a year, while service managers will be expected to increase the proportion of time they spend with staff and cases to 70 per cent, with a new protocol issued to radically reduce the time they spend in meetings.

The report says supervision ratios could be increased by designating some family court advisers as practice supervisors, who could spend up to 50 per cent of their time on supervision.

The report also promises to increase pay where salaries fall short of the market rate and introduce bonuses for excellent performance.

It also promises manageable workloads, adding: “The impact of high levels of demand on already overstretched staff is increasingly noticeable and worrying, and is one of the main reasons for a need to concentrate on core business and clear priorities.”

Key proposals to increase investment and quality
● All services, practitioners and managers will be audited in 2007 and 2008 to see whether practice has improved.
● Unit cost budgeting will be implemented by 2008.
● All existing family court advisers will be supported to complete a specialist PQ award; all new FCAs will be expected to hold or be working towards one.
● 11 regional directors reduced to five operational directors.

Organising for Quality from www.cafcass.gov.uk

Contact the author
 Mithran Samuel

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