Cafcass chief Anthony Douglas has hit out at a Wiltshire judge for “generalising massively” about the problems facing his organisation, after he was summoned to court for the first time ever to explain its performance.
Douglas admitted there were “liaison problems” in Wiltshire between the courts and Cafcass, but said district judge Byron Carron was “wrong” last week to attack his organisation as a whole for delays in the wake of the Baby P case.
Carron grilled Douglas in a live conference call over delays of several months in three cases in Wiltshire and, according to The Times, described the delays as “deplorable and entirely unacceptable”.
Record number of care applications
Care applications in March hit a record 739, 38% up on the same time last year, which Cafcass said could be due to a “lowering of the threshold of intervention by local authorities” following the Baby P case.
Douglas said it was too early to tell if this was a long-term trend or if applications would level off.
But Cafcass is in talks with senior members of the judiciary about its work across public and private law cases so it can focus on core tasks.
Douglas said: “In private law, while we want to see a good number of children before the first hearing, safeguarding work is taking something like eight hours per case.
Need to scale back
“It’s not possible to resource that, plus a degree of dispute resolution, so we’re having to scale back more within our core statutory remit. We have less time per case so we have to prioritise. We don’t have the control of local authorities or health trusts to set eligibility criteria.”
He said Cafcass was recruiting 59 more practitioners, but the rise in care applications meant it “cannot allocate social workers to cases as quickly as we would like in some areas”.
Most cases allocated within three days
However, overall it was allocating 90% of public law cases within three days and 97% within 28 days, he said.
Ann Haigh, chair of the family court practitioners association Nagalro, said Cafcass was not making the best use of self-employed guardians to meet extra demand.
But Douglas said Cafcass was using all the self-employed practitioners it needed to use, and that permanent staff were typically able to take on a wider variety of cases than the self-employed, who mostly specialised in public law work.
How the Public Law Outline is affecting care cases in the wake of Baby P