Cafcass’s private law practice must no longer be seen as a “Cinderella service”, the family court organisation’s chief executive, Anthony Douglas, has said.
The comment came after Ofsted lambasted performance in this area for the second time in three months.
Anthony Douglas pledged to deal with problems in private law practice after last week’s Ofsted inspection report on Cafcass’s South East region. It rated the public law service good to adequate but cited “unacceptable” failings in private law cases, which concern the children of separated parents. Douglas said he “took the blame” for failings.
Domestic violence failings
The report found children were left at risk due to failure to assess domestic violence issues and inadequate court reports.
Priority given to public law cases had led to “serious delays” in providing services in private law proceedings, particularly in Kent, the inspection last November and December found.
The inspection, which also covered Surrey and Sussex, warned low staffing in the region left services “unable to meet demand” from people involved in private law, and managers had failed to tackle delays. Steps to rectify weaknesses were “thwarted by budget constraints” in the last financial year.
Followed critical East Midlands report
The report followed Ofsted’s inspection report on East Midlands Cafcass in February, which raised concerns over practitioners’ “lack of consistency” in safeguarding the welfare of some children and young people, particularly in private law cases.
Douglas said the South East region inspection had taken place “in the middle of a fairly static budget” leading to constraints on improvements.
But he pointed out that the organisation had received a “generous” three-year grant in April from the Department for Children, Schools and Families and pledged “more time, resources and training” for private law practice.
Cafcass also announced an increase of nearly 70% in its training budget for 2008-9 last week.
Family court union Napo warned that Cafcass South East had not recovered from budget cuts and lacked capacity to meet demand. Its Cafcass representative Paul Bishop said practitioners wanted to see more money to make improvements.