Douglas: Cafcass ‘firefighting’ as care cases soar after Baby P

A continued rise in care applications following the Baby P case has left Cafcass staff “firefighting” while trying to improve services on the back of successive critical inspections.

That was the message from Anthony Douglas, chief executive of the family courts body, who also raised concerns that a new inspection regime due to be introduced in April by Ofsted would pose significant challenges for Cafcass.

Post-Baby P care spike

Douglas told Community Care that the number of care applications in January was 28% higher than the same month in 2008, continuing the upward trend that followed the conclusion of the Baby P trial on 11 November 2008.

He said Cafcass was considering the resource implications of the increase in care applications and predicted this would continue for a few more months.

The pressures come as it carries out a significant programme to improve private law practice, which was labelled “inadequate” by Ofsted last year in damning inspection reports on the family court body’s East Midlands, South East and South Yorkshire areas. All three raised safeguarding concerns.

Signs of improvement

Signs of improvement have been evident in two pilot inspections under the proposed new assessment regime.

Last month, Ofsted rated Cafcass’s Near South West area – Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Avon – as satisfactory overall and for safeguarding. A probe into Cafcass’s Birmingham and the Black Country area, published last week, rated it inadequate overall, but inspectors said the service was satisfactory on safeguarding and in terms of its capacity to improve.

However, Douglas questioned Ofsted’s proposal to judge Cafcass against the five Every Child Matters outcomes – health, staying safe, enjoying and achieving, making a positive contribution and economic wellbeing – under the new system. The Birmingham and the Black Country area was rated as inadequate against the outcomes.

‘Very difficult’

Douglas said it was “very difficult” for areas to meet this target because staff dealt “only briefly” with children’s cases.

“Cafcass areas can’t be judged in the same way as whole local authorities which have the resources of children’s trusts.”

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