Cafcass has been granted an extra £7.9m in government funding for this financial year to enable it to tackle its record number of outstanding cases and staffing issues.
The family court advisory body said it would use the resource to recruit more social workers, having already increased full-time practitioner numbers by 11% from March 2020 to March 2021, tripling agency worker headcount in the process.
The extra funding from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has boosted Cafcass’s total resource budget to £135.7m for 2021-22. This is a 3.4% increase on its final budget for 2020-21 (£131.2m) but a 6.2% rise on its original budget for last year, after the MoJ granted it an extra £3.4m to deal with work pressures exacerbated by the pandemic.
“This temporary increase in funding will help Cafcass to recruit additional social workers to meet this demand and alleviate some of the pressure on our staff and on the children and families we serve,” said a spokesperson for the service.
Cafcass said that prior to the pandemic, along with the whole family justice system, it was already under stress due to “unprecedented demand”.
“The pandemic has exacerbated these pressures by slowing down the ability of the courts to conclude applications within previous timescales. As well as the higher demand, the cases held by family court advisers are, therefore, staying open for longer. The result is that caseloads have been building up to levels that are not sustainable.”
Open cases reached a record high of 44,753 at the end of April 2021, up from 33,640 in April 2020.
‘Merely touch the surface’
Nagalro, the professional body for social workers who represent children in court proceedings, said it welcomed the extra funding.:
“We trust that the money will be targeted to enable the practitioners to provide and appropriately expand the necessary depth of exploration and understanding of the needs of the vulnerable children, in order to fully appraise and advise the family courts at that critical point in the children’s young lives, when so much is at stake for their futures.”
Napo, the trade union that represents staff at Cafcass, also said it welcomed the extra funding but said that it would “merely touch the surface”.
General Secretary Ian Lawrence said: “On its own this modest increase will merely touch the surface and until Cafcass pay becomes more competitive then the staff shortages, workload crisis and the associated stress issues will just get worse. Napo will be engaging with the employer to see exactly how this increase can be best utilised.”
The MoJ said the extra funding was designed “to ensure Cafcass has the staff and resources to deliver its vital work”. A spokesperson stressed that Cafcass operated independently was responsible for deciding how to allocate the funding.