Cafcass reforms may falter if post-Baby P spike continues

Family court body Cafcass will face “considerable resource pressures” if the spike in care applications following the Baby P case continues into the New Year, its chief executive has warned.

In an interview with Community Care, Anthony Douglas (pictured) said Cafcass would face problems if the increase became an ongoing trend given its programme to improve private law practice on the back of three highly critical Ofsted inspection reports this year.

The Baby P trial finished on 11 November. From 10-20 November, there were 369 care applications made by English councils, compared with 292 in the same period in 2007, which Douglas attributed to “risk aversion” on the part of authorities, in reaction to the Baby P case.

He said care applications tended to drop in December and he would be looking “very closely” to see whether the upward trend resumed in January.

Significant reform programme

Cafcass has embarked on a significant programme to improve private law practice, which was labelled “inadequate” by Ofsted this year in inspection reports on the family court body’s East Midlands, South East and South Yorkshire areas.

The failings are being addressed through a significant increase in spending on training – helped by a 7% a year grant increase from 2008 until 2011 – and a new national practice and performance assessment system, launched this autumn.

Douglas said: “I think we are making improvements. We have got intensive work going on in each of our 21 service areas.”

But he warned: “We have to prioritise work across every area – public law, private law, adoption, specialist work. We also can’t afford backlogs to begin.” Cafcass was dogged by lengthy backlogs in public law after its creation in 2001, a problem now resolved.

Cafcass chief backs Ofsted’s criticisms of service

Douglas has also backed Ofsted’s approach to inspecting Cafcass. Last week family court union Napo criticised the inspectorate for its emphasis on service user views,
particularly those of parents. Douglas said he agreed with most of Ofsted’s criticisms of Cafcass in three inspection reports. “In any inspection, the people you talk to about what’s going on are the people who receive the services and the people who provide them,” he added.

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