Family court union Napo today renewed its attack on Ofsted’s inspections of Cafcass, accusing the inspectorate of having “unrealistic expectations” of the service and parents’ and children’s views of it.
It came in response to an Ofsted consultation on future inspections of the family court body, which closed this week.
However, following the attack, Ofsted accused the union of misunderstanding its work in relation to Cafcass.
Ofsted has proposed that all Cafcass services receive an inspection every three years, while inadequate areas would receive “frequent and rigorous” monitoring until weaknesses were resolved.
Cafcass has vowed to address the failings with a big hike in training spending and a new national practice and performance assessment system; however Napo has repeatedly questioned the validity of Ofsted’s judgements.
In its consultation paper, Ofsted made “meeting the needs of users” one of four areas on which Cafcass would be assessed – alongside effectiveness, outcomes for children and potential to improve.
It stressed that “the adversarial nature of the judicial process” in care proceedings and hostile custody battles meant user dissatisfaction was often with court outcomes rather than Cafcass’s services.
However, it added: “Inspectors have identified many instances where services users – especially children – considered that they were not well served by Cafcass.”
Napo vice-chair Paul Bishop accused Ofsted of placing too great an emphasis on the views of parents on Cafcass’s services, which lead to “unrealistic expectations”.
Not a service for parents
He said: “Cafcass does not provide a service for parents. Cafcass is required by law to make the welfare of children its paramount concern. This will often mean parents will not achieve what they consider to be a fair outcome for themselves.”
Bishop said it was also unrealistic to expect children to always be happy with the outcome of their experience with Cafcass, given the distress caused by parental separation or removal from their families, and the fact most were under nine years old making it difficult to explain decisions to them.
He also said Ofsted placed too little emphasis on the views of judges or magistrates who “are in the best position to comment impartially” on Cafcass’s work.
Only one judicial comment
Bishop said of the three critical reports on Cafcass, just one included a comment from a member of the judiciary.
In the consultation, Ofsted said the judiciary’s views would be taken into account alongside other stakeholders’.
In response to Napo’s criticisms, an Ofsted spokesperson said: “Ofsted believes that children, young people and their families have a right to a quality service. It is disappointing to hear that Napo feels our (and the public’s) expectations are too high. We make no apology for this.”
She added: “Several inaccurate statements highlight that Napo has misunderstood much of Ofsted’s work and our proposals for improvements. Cafcass has already accepted Ofsted’s criticisms as valid and is working hard to ensure that the required improvements are made so children and young people receive the support they need and deserve.”