Cafcass has boosted its full-time social worker numbers by 11% across the country, tripling agency staffing numbers, over the past year, to deal with mounting demand.
From March 2020 to now, the court advisory service increased full-time equivalent employed social workers from 1,406.1 to 1,483.5, and agency headcount from 34 to 108, staff, an overall boost of 151 social workers.
The increase in staffing is in response to a rise in caseloads, with open cases increasing from 33,640 in April 2020 to a record 42,719 in February 2021, as a result of referral numbers and Covid-induced delays in processing cases through the family courts.
The boost in staffing has enabled Cafcass to end its policy, introduced in November, of only allocating public law and high-priority private law cases to family court advisers in South Yorkshire and Humber.
In this region, staffing numbers have grown by more than the national average, with a 16% rise in social workers, from 70.1 in March 2020 to 81.5 as of March 2021, most of which was accounted for by agency staff.
‘Further resources needed’
Napo, the trade union that represents staff at Cafcass, welcomed the recruitment of new staff but said that “it is disappointing that this is not expected to ease the current workload crisis”, with “further resources…needed to stabilise the service”.
General secretary Ian Lawrence said: “Any increase in staffing number is good news but the numbers do not reflect the seriousness of the workload crisis in Cafcass. The minister (Lord Wolfson) must make it an absolute priority to stabilise the service and ensure it can deliver.
“We urge the minister to draw up a long-term strategy and engage with Napo to properly resource Cafcass and alleviate the immense stress being put upon staff.”
In response to Lawrence’s comments, the Ministry of Justice said that it had agreed £3.4m of extra funding for 2020-21 “to ensure Cafcass has the staff and resources to deliver its vital work. [Cafcass] operates independently and is responsible for deciding how it allocates this.”
Nagalro, the professional body for social workers who represent children in court proceedings, said it welcomed Cafcass’ decision to stop prioritising cases in South Yorkshire and .
“This will mean that all children, in public law cases and cases in the priority three and four groups, will receive a service that they are entitled to by law. Nagalro is pleased that Cafcass has secured additional staff resource and Cafcass has informed us that they achieved this by approaching and re-accrediting a number of high performing retired members and so been able to increase the capacity,” the organisation added.