Cafcass chief tells staff to improve complaints handling

The chief executive of Cafcass has demanded improvements after warning staff the family courts body is among the worst performing public bodies for handling complaints, Community Care has discovered.

In an email sent to senior Cafcass staff in December, following a private meeting with the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, Anthony Douglas said the “informal classification” was “a serious issue for us to address”

He wrote: “The emerging Ombudsman hypothesis is that we do not give complainants sufficiently direct answers or responses to the questions they put to us, and further, that we refuse to take on board concerns which should be ours administratively rather than those which can be properly referred into the ambit of the court.”

Douglas said the Ombudsman was investigating seven cases to assess whether Cafcass had followed the correct internal procedures. He said he was carrying out a parallel internal review of the cases to “see if I reach the same conclusions as them”.

He outlined a number of measures for improvement, before adding: “We need to ensure robust arrangements in the new structure for complaints handling in 2011/12, so that by the end of the year, and by preferably mid-way through, we are no longer on the Ombudsman’s radar.”

Speaking to Community Care today Douglas stressed that the Ombudsman had made no decisions or judgements about the legitimacy of procedures followed by staff when handling a very small number of cases.

He said the Ombudsman had “categorically not warned” the body of any wrongdoing, adding that the private meeting had been a “genuine attempt to proactively and constructively look at the way in which we could improve this area of our work and concerns a very small number of cases”.

He said: “In the same way in which we have seen a rapid improvement in practice, as evidenced by the two recent positive Ofsted inspection results and the fact that 99.7% of our care cases are currently allocated, we are now working hard to improve our complaints handling.

“The vast majority of complaints I have looked at as part of this process are from disgruntled parents where we have done the right thing for their child or children and where dissatisfaction with our recommendations is best raised in the courts.

“Nonetheless, responding to complaints is an important part of our service to get right and we are working collaboratively with the Ombudsman to improve this part of our performance and to ensure that lessons that we learn are applied to our current and future work.”

A spokesperson for the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman told Community Care: “The Ombudsman maintains confidential relationships with the bodies that we work with and we conduct our cases in private. We do not comment on the work of any of the bodies within our jurisdiction”.

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