Cafcass to prioritise private law practice improvement

Practice improvement, particularly in private law, is Cafcass’s “top priority” for 2008-11 the family court organisation’s chief executive said this week.

Anthony Douglas’s comment came as Cafcass published its annual report for 2007-8 and follows two damning Ofsted inspection reports, which criticised private law practice.

Douglas said that an “excellent” three-year government grant settlement for 2008-11, representing a 7% year-on-year increase, would allow Cafcass to put a “proper staff development, training and support strategy” in place for the first time.

“These things don’t come cheap. The work is complex and demanding. Staff need a lot of support and a lot of training,” he added.

Ofsted’s reports this year into Cafcass’s South East and East Midlands regions, based on inspections carried out in December and June 2007 respectively, branded the organisation’s private law work as “inadequate”.

Both inspections found Cafcass’s private law court reports to be wanting, and said children involved in contact and residence disputes were being put at risk through failures to address domestic violence issues.

Helen James, chair of Nagalro, the professional association for children’s guardians and family court advisers, said that while the extra funding was welcome staff also needed “stability”, due to “continuing changes in practice, processes and management”. These included the introduction of the public law outline in April 2008 – the new case management system for care proceedings.

Cafcass also introduced an organisational structure in April this year that aims to put more management support into local teams and expand the number of family support workers, whose role is to assist family court advisers in their practice.

Douglas said he was “confident” the structure would lead to improvements on the ground.

Click here for the Cafcass annual report

Click here for Cafcass website

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