Anthony Douglas says reforms will deliver after poor Cafcass report

Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service chief executive Anthony Douglas (pictured) has vowed the organisation’s current restructure will tackle significant problems identified in an Ofsted report last week.

An inspection of East Midlands Cafcass raised concerns over practitioners’ “lack of consistency” in safeguarding the welfare of some children and young people, particularly in private law cases.

Inspectors had to refer seven serious issues to the regional Cafcass director for immediate review to ensure that children were not left at risk of harm, and one manager in the region admitted some practice was “dangerous”.

Effective leadership needed

Arran Poyser, Ofsted’s assistant divisional manager, said improvements to Cafcass’ work – particularly in private law – were being hampered by a lack of consistent training. Poyser highlighted the need for effective leadership and said the problems were “not a resource issue”.

Following a damning private law inspection in September 2006, which identified sub-standard assessments that did not adequately address the risk of domestic violence, Anthony Douglas said a “culture change” was required in the service.

Since then, Cafcass has promised to ensure all practitioners receive four days’ domestic violence training by 2010 and “substantially” reduce supervision ratios of up to 20 practitioners to one front-line manager, as part of a wider restructure, unveiled in December 2006.

Change takes time

Douglas promised to quickly implement the recommendations in Ofsted’s report, including carrying out a safeguarding audit of all recent cases. But he said he was confident the structural changes Cafcass had put in place would deliver improvements.

Douglas added: “Fundamental change does take time to deliver. Nevertheless we recognise how urgent it is for us to demonstrate significant and sustained improvement in specific areas of our practice.”

But Paul Bishop, national vice-chair for Cafcass at union Napo, which represents around 600 Cafcass practitioners, claimed the current restucture of Cafcass had left staffing gaps, leaving practitioners “under pressure”.

Inspectors ‘lack understanding’ of Cafcass

He also denied that children had been put at risk in the East Midlands, and questioned the “evidence” behind Ofsted’s findings, suggesting inspectors lacked understanding of the service.

While Ofsted judged the service as “inadequate” overall, it also cited strengths including timely allocation of work, good relationships with partners, construcive responses to complaints and sound financial management.

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