Cafcass services gain first ‘good’ rating from Ofsted

Family courts body Cafcass has received its first “good” rating from Ofsted, following an unannounced inspection of its services in the North East.

Services provided to families in Gateshead, Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside and Sunderland showed “good progress”, according to the watchdog, particularly in eradicating backlogs and allocating cases.

Ofsted’s report – based on an unannounced inspection in November 2010 and published today – states that, “the longstanding backlog of work has been eradicated. All cases are quickly allocated to a suitably qualified practitioner and the key performance indicators for allocating cases are met.”

Inspectors found that new arrangements, set up to tackle delay and deal with increased demand, had ensured early intervention in cases, the timely provision of safeguarding information for the court and improved working practices.

They also praised “wishes and feeling” reports produced by family support workers for “effectively allowing children to voice their concerns and influence plans for their future”. The reports helped courts to make considered decisions, inspectors found.

However, inspectors did note “significant variation” in the quality of assessments produced by the two Cafcass sites and found relationships with local authorities were too variable.

“In some cases, referrals for services are not made within agreed local thresholds or do not offer sufficient information to progress the case. As a result, in some cases, unnecessary referrals are made. In others, delays occur when further clarification is needed by the local authority before action can be taken,” the report stated.

Cafcass chief executive Anthony Douglas said the report was “especially pleasing” given the continuing high levels of care applications. November 2010 saw 810 care applications, the highest ever recorded for the month.

“At a time when there is no let up in demand for our services it is especially pleasing that our success in reducing waiting lists and providing a quality and timely service to all children has been recognised.”

Carole Goodman, head of service for the area, said rising demand had meant they had had to change the way they worked. “We are still developing our new way of working and we’ve got to keep the momentum going. But this result shows we are making good progress and we’re on the right track, which is very heartening.”

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