Work-related stress on the rise at Cafcass

Stress-related sick leave among employed Cafcass guardians hit 9% as referrals rose sharply following the death of Baby P.

Figures obtained under a Freedom of Information request show that between March and November 2009, 106 of the 1,150 employed guardians took time off due to stress, compared with 71 (6%) for the same time period in 2008.

Cafcass has been swamped by care order referrals since Peter Connolly’s mother Tracey Connolly, boyfriend Steven Barker and his brother Jason Owens were convicted in November 2008 of causing and allowing the toddler’s death.

In June 2009 it received a record 787 care order referrals, up from 686 the previous year, and the following November was the third highest at 753. Figures released by Cafcass last month showed that care demand between April and December 2009 was 46.1% higher than in the same period the previous year.

Alison Paddle, former chair of Nagalro, said staff were being overloaded with cases while self-employed guardians were not being used.

“There may be an issue around resources but in our view they have not made good use of what they have,” she said, adding: “In September 2009 Cafcass wrote to self-employed guardians and said they would not be used until the next financial year. But they were using a lot of agency staff who are more expensive.”

“Then they got more money and offered self-employed people work but by that time most had taken on other work to pay the bills,” said Paddle.

A spokesperson for Cafcass said the body had introduced several measures to ensure staff had access to occupational health assessments and counselling support services.

“However, not all stress-related sickness absence is connected with work. We estimate that 60% of the 106 cases in 2009 were connected with work-related stress.”

He also added that staff turnover had fallen during December 2009 from 11.6% to 4.6%.

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