Children may be at risk due to “unacceptable” failings in some children and family court advisory services in the South East, inspectors have warned.
Ofsted raised concerns over inadequacies in Cafcass private law services in Kent, Surrey and Sussex, citing delays in allocating work, poor assessment of children in domestic violence cases and inadequate reports to the courts.
Low staffing in the region left services unable to meet demand from people involved in private law cases, and managers had failed to tackle the “root causes” of delay, according to the inspection report published today.
Public law services were rated good to adequate, but the priority given to public law had led to “serious delays” in providing services to children and families in private law proceedings, particularly in Kent, the inspection from November to December last year found.
Ofsted chief inspector Christine Gilbert said: “Some of the services being provided by Cafcass’ south east region are adequate or better. But some of the failings are serious, and frankly, unacceptable. Overall, the region has a number of inadequacies particularly in the handling of private law cases, where children may be left at risk.”
She said Ofsted had made 10 recommendations which, if implemented, would help improve services in the region.
In response, Cafcass said it had taken rapid action to implement the recommendations and had been working to improve services before the inspection.
Anthony Douglas, Cafcass chief executive, said: “Our public law work is good and the problems in our private law practice are being urgently addressed – I can already guarantee significant improvements.”
Today’s report is the latest in a series of critical inspections highlighting problems in Cafcass’ private law practice, with many in relation to domestic violence.
Only in February, an Ofsted 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.
Earlier this week, Cafcass announced an increase of nearly 70% in its training budget for 2008-9 and plans for each staff member to receive £250 to spend on training.