Cafcass ‘in serious jeopardy’ regarding social work staffing due to pay constraints

Family courts body losing experienced staff to councils who are able to pay more and struggling to compete because of government wage policies, says chief executive

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Story updated 20 May 2022

Cafcass is in “serious jeopardy” in relation to its social work staffing due to government pay constraints, its chief executive has warned.

The family courts body is losing staff to local authorities who are able to pay more and is struggling to compete because of limits on its ability to increase wages, Jacky Tiotto told its most recent board meeting.

Tiotto said that Cafcass was continuing to lose about 20 social workers a month; in January, she warned that this could double to 40 unless its sponsoring government department – the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) – gives it more freedom to set pay.

At the time, inflation was running at 5.5% but it has since risen to 9%, in April, and Tiotto warned that the wider cost-of-living crisis was starting to take its toll.

“We are receiving a letter most days from a manager which says someone who is very experienced who wants to stay at Cafcass is leaving because they can get more money locally,” she told the meeting last month. “They don’t want to leave but they are. That is becoming more acute as people’s bills and lives become more expensive.”

Pay freeze

Pay for Cafcass social work staff stayed still in 2021-22, because of a government-wide pay freeze, while council social workers received a 1.75% rise.

This year, the Treasury has given government departments the freedom to raise overall pay bills by 2% but this includes any increments for career progression, as well as cost-of-living increases. Departments are allowed to increase this to 3%, but only if they can make a strong business case, based on progress against ” key long-term priorities”.

“We are an arms-length part of government which means we are very restricted in making pay and reward settlements that enable us to compete in a competitive social work marketplace,” said Tiotto.

It would not be wrong to say we are in serious jeopardy in relation to our social work staff.”

She added: “We can’t be in the position of having our pay as uncompetitive as it is. We need to get a business case through. We are losing 20 social workers a month…It’s one of the things that keeps us awake at night.”

Cafcass and the main union for staff at the body, Napo, said they could not comment further because pay negotiations were ongoing.

Funding boost

An MoJ spokesperson referred to the increase in budget Cafcass has received over the past year, which has enabled it to increase staffing levels to deal with pandemic-induced family court pressures.

“Cafcass plays a vital role ensuring children’s voices are at the heart of the family court which is why we have provided them with additional funding so they can hire staff to ease the impact of the pandemic,” the spokesperson said.

The MoJ increased Cafcass’s 2021-22 budget by £2.3m in January, to £138m, to tackle staff shortages and manage case backlogs, taking its budget for that year to 8% above the £127.8m originally allocated for 2020-21.

Cafcass said that the MoJ had provided a revenue budget of £138.7m for 2022-23.

Caseloads down but still high

As of the end of April, Cafcass had 34,659 open cases, down 7.8% on the 37,611 in April 2021, reflecting a 6.9% fall in new proceedings in 2021-22 across public and private law.

Caseloads for family court advisers (FCAs) have also decreased in the past 12 months, which Cafcass attributed to increased investment in staff and senior managers’ decision to protect frontline caseloads.

Tiotto told the board that caseloads for work after a first hearing had fallen from 26 to just under 22. However, she pointed out that one in four FCAs were carrying caseloads above recommended levels (25 sets of proceedings) in non-early intervention teams (EITs), while this was true of half of practitioners in the EITs.

Cafcass has also pointed out that open case numbers are 15% higher than they were at the start of the pandemic, in March 2020, when there were just over 30,000.

Less oversight of practice

Protecting staff caseloads has involved giving work to managers, Tiotto said, with practice supevisors carrying 15.9 sets of proceedings on average, close to a full caseload.

“What happens less is oversight of practice and we’ve had to reduce our expectations of what managers do, for example, overseeing case closure,” she added. “All of the stretch and improvement we want to do, we have to balance against people holding caseloads.”

Besides case numbers, individual cases were also taking longer and in some cases requiring more work, she said.

Despite the overall reduction in private law cases in 2021-22, the volume of section 7 reports on children’s welfare requested of Cafcass by the courts increased by 8.6% (1,786 more reports).

Longer cases leading to more work

A Cafcass spokesperson said that, while the proportion of cases which required at least one section 7 reports had remained stable, there had been an increase in court requests for addendum (additional) reports. The number of these reports had risen by 11.4% during 2021-22.

“Addendums are more likely to be a needed for updated information in proceedings that are delayed,” said the spokesperson. “There has been a significant increase in the durations of family proceedings. We have an ongoing programme of work with our partners to address these issues for children and families.”

Family court backlogs have seen the average durations of cases continue to rise. Despite a target for care proceedings cases to be completed within 26 weeks, Cafcass said they had continued to average around 45 weeks, as has been the case since autumn 2021.

Private law proceedings that went beyond the first hearing took 54 weeks on average to conclude, while rule 16.4 cases, for particularly vulnerable children for whom a Cafcass guardian is appointed, averaged 96 weeks in April, up from 92 weeks in January.

Children made ‘very anxious’ by delays

Tiotto’s board report said delays in these cases made the children involved “very anxious, with the ongoing exposure to unresolved conflict in which they are embroiled, impacting on all aspects of their development and wellbeing”.

Cafcass is planning to work with the judiciary to address the length of these cases, potentially by having a structured case management approach in which a final hearing date is agreed at an early stage.

Cafcass is continuing to delay the allocation of lower-priority private law work to FCAs in some areas, in order to manage case pressures.

The board meeting heard that one region, West Yorkshire, was no longer under the so-called prioritisation protocol, leaving four – covering the West Midlands and surrounding areas, South Yorkshire and Humberside, Greater Manchester and Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk – that were. However, one other areas – private law in London – was at risk of entering the system.

Under the protocol, lower-priority cases are held by a practice supervisor in an allocation hub until they can be allocated to FCAs.

To also help manage pressures, Cafcass has set up post-assessment hubs, where cases in which there is no hearing listed or none for six weeks, are held by a practice supervisor after then FCA has carried out an assessment and filed a report. A Cafcass spokesperson said the post-assessment hubs had, in some areas, prevented or delayed the need for prioritisation.

Gap in provision of perpetrator programmes

The board meeting also heard that there would be a gap in the provision of domestic abuse perpetrator programmes (DAPPs) through the family courts next year.

Cafcass, on behalf of MoJ, funds the provision of DAPPs, in cases where the court has found a parent in a private law case to have been abusive and ordered they attend a programme to change their behaviour and reduce harm to children.

The MoJ has decided that more comprehensive provision of DAPPs is needed, meaning existing services will cease on 31 March 2023, and the board meeting heard that new provision would not be up and running until at least the middle of 2024.

Cafcass said that, given that programmes take nine months to complete, the family courts would need to stop ordering parents to attend by the end of next month.

DAPPs have been badly affected by Covid-19 because of the need for them to be carried out in person, with provision stopping altogether in some areas.

Longstanding concerns

However, problems were identified prior to the pandemic, notably in the 2020 government-commissioned report on assessing the risk of harm to children and parents in private law cases.

This found a postcode lottery in the provision of Cafcass-funded DAPPs, and raised concerns about the use of other provision that was not subject to the same standards.

Cafcass said that, in the coming months, guidance would be produced for alternative options in cases where the family courts would have ordered a parent to attend a DAPP.

The MoJ also said interim arrangements would be in place while the new programme was being developed.

A Cafcass spokesperson said: “In the absence of domestic abuse perpetrator programmes being available for nearly two years during the pandemic, and in some areas not at all, guidance has been developed for Cafcass family court advisers (FCAs) to support their decision making and recommendations to court about whether family time can be made safe and beneficial for the child.

“The commissioning of these programmes is a matter for the Ministry of Justice and not Cafcass. Our priority on behalf of children is to make sure that our recommendations to the family court are well–reasoned and set out clearly how we have assessed the harm that children have experienced and any continuing risks that arise from contact. The wishes and feelings of the children whom we represent will be clearly set out in our reports.”

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16 Responses to Cafcass ‘in serious jeopardy’ regarding social work staffing due to pay constraints

  1. Susan Hughes May 18, 2022 at 8:13 pm #

    If CAFCASS in jeperdy what about LA social worker
    All the statutory duties inc court work
    Much larger caseloads
    Cafcass are civil service employees and certainly earn significantly more than statutory social workers

    • Paul May 19, 2022 at 7:40 pm #

      Social workers – yes
      Senior social workers- no… and that is the level required.

      Caseloads are higher than they should be too (although not at LA levels)

      The picture is that staff leave to do senior/management work… which pay a lot more. If you need the money (that 1.75% difference this year is about £400) … then WLB won’t matter as much

    • Amy May 20, 2022 at 7:16 am #

      That’s not true, sadly. La’s are paying more than Cafcass now

      • Marie May 20, 2022 at 4:47 pm #

        I disagree, unless you’re referring to agency working for LA. Cafcass SWs are paid more than LA SWs.. one of my team has just left my LA for Cafcass with that being one of the reasons.

        • Lou Wright May 20, 2022 at 7:37 pm #

          Not in our area. LA Senior Pracs £47k. Cafcass £43k max. Our area has seen a huge staff exidos from cafcass to LAs.

        • Di May 21, 2022 at 3:17 pm #

          The payroll as a senior sw in LA is far getter than at cafcass … also there is no job progression at cafcass

  2. jim blake May 18, 2022 at 10:55 pm #

    Well the chickens have well and truely come home to roost, with all due respect to chickens, as for decades, initially the probation service, followed by Cafcass when it was created in 2001, were always able to poach social workers by being able to offer better terms and conditions including higher salaries, how times have changed.

    This retired, experienced Guardian is happy, relaxed and thankful to be away from the politics of it all.

  3. jim blake May 19, 2022 at 6:46 pm #

    Problems at Cafcass go deeper than mere salaries, there’s the autocratic management style, the absence of any admin support, the lack of local identity following the closure of dozens of the smaller offices over the years, e,g Dudley, Walsall and Wolverhampton in the West Midlands, leading to a lack of understanding of local communities, which impacts negatively on service users in times of crisis, all very sad.

    • Clare May 22, 2022 at 1:10 am #

      Absolutely agree. The salary is good with health benefits but the autocratic management style, poor initial training and lack of support, both admin and management are factors why people don’t stay.

  4. Sarah May 20, 2022 at 6:58 pm #

    No one is a social worker for pay! Its not the pay why people are leaving which “new” is cafcass problem! Completely ignorent leadership from the gold team!
    Lionesses lead by donkeys

  5. Lisa B May 21, 2022 at 11:16 am #

    I don’t know why the LA can’t pay their permanent SW’s half as much as they do agency workers?!! I love it at Cafcass, but the heat is on at the moment in terms of caseloads- however top management are looking at ways to help/support. Nothing is ever straight forward is it?

  6. Violet B May 22, 2022 at 8:30 pm #

    I have been a Guardian since prior to cafcass being invented…I am now counting the days to my exit..not the money, its the autocratic style of leaders who are hell bent on eroding the role..they don’t want experienced, independent, objective workers they want people they can manipulate…quite frankly, I no longer see the point.

  7. Disgrunted guardian May 23, 2022 at 1:48 pm #

    Cafcass is becoming a bit of a disappointment. They prefer to gave I experienced staff who they can mold and manipulate.

    CAFCASS doesnt like experienced staff who have a voice and an opinion.

    The management style is autocratic, negative and critical (diff to constructive criticism). It’s oppressive and no longer impartial

    The expectation to do the case plans, diversity etc appears to be the most important thing instead of getting the job done

    The number of hours worked overtime yet you have to fight for toil

    Looking forward to starting my role in LA for more money … at least they appreciate my 35 years experience

  8. Chris Sterry May 23, 2022 at 3:25 pm #

    This is a prime example of what can occur when Governments get involved in pay negotiations as governments are far to far removed from any area to understand all that is occurring , even if they wish to understand, which in many instances I feel they have no wish to understand.

    They make these pronouncements as to pay structures limiting here and there or no increase whatsoever, while in practice they don’t follow these pronouncements in respect of their own pay structures and those of MPs.

    In those respects they state that their and MP pay is independently assessed and recommendations put forward, which in practice they generally accept when in reality and to be equal they should reuse to accept, as there increase is generally much more than that being considered to be awarded to others.

    They give no thoughts to how areas in which they restrict pay awards will continue to exist when pay can be obtained elsewhere so people move where the ‘grass appears to be greener’.

    In fact taking what a Government minister suggested recently, that being, one Rachel Maclean MP, the safeguarding minister,( to heart.

    People have families to support so they will do what they need to do for their families, leaving the poorer paid jobs behind.

    Care workers are a prime example, as their salaries are way too low, especially when all the job responsibilities are taken into account, so leaving the care profession way understaffed and thus the profession is then failing the persons greatly in need of care, but this and all previous Governments have failed all care workers and certainly those in need of care.

    The local authority grants should, immediately be increased to the 2010 levels, in real terms, even though that will still be well short of what is actually required, but these government have no caring thought at all, as long as they are OK, taking salary increases while denying them to others.

  9. Lisa JJ May 24, 2022 at 4:38 pm #

    Terms and conditions as well as pay are appalling at Cafcass.

    The organisation is far too top heavy with senior managers holding court and talking about their ideas forgetting they are talking to social workers – i.e. ‘introduce yourself to children in a letter’ – do Cafcass really need to spend money on training to offer that advice?

    One of the senior directors / heads of service / service managers / improvement managers (or other head in charge of xyz) needs to take a long hard look at the budget, salaries across the board and spending on PR / wellbeing / IT / team days out / managers overnight stays for senior meetings and balance this against outcomes for children.

  10. Stephen May 24, 2022 at 6:40 pm #

    This article appears to focus on the wages we earn as Cafcass employees and it is fair to say we can earn a lot more elsewhere. This has been the case for many years. You may then ask so why work for Cafcass? I joined because it was an area of social work which I felt was necessary and also where my independent opinions would be valued. I and almost all of my colleagues evidence the expertise that we bring to the role. Unfortunately, we have had a change of leadership. This leadership has come from a local authority background, not a Cafcass background. The new leadership team does not appear to have any understanding of the unique work Cafcass court advisors and guardians do. I am not even sure they understand the difference between private and public law work; the difference is really very important to understand when you are in charge of this organisation.
    There is a great lack of understanding of the geography we cover (this is not a local authority with a geographical area where visits may be easy to complete, our coverage can be 100s of miles wide). There is a lack of understanding in that we are not frontline social workers or early help social workers; our job is to provide oversight, an expert perspective, an independent perspective.
    The words that have been used in the comments are ‘’autocratic’’ wanting to erode experienced objective workers whilst wanting to have workers who they can manipulate, I would go further and say dominate (a local authority approach in my experience).
    The training over the past two years has been appallingly base. I have learnt nothing from Cafcass other than assuming that they assume me to be maybe at BTEC health and social care level. It has been demoralising and depressing.
    I have spoken to many of my colleagues over the past months since the new management was installed and can confirm that nobody is happy, morale is really low. Being forced to do endless case plans and filling in various online forms whilst also having our traffic light system taken away (this was a system that told you that when it flagged red your cases were too high, that has been taken away by senior management). And the endless QA’s/observations which I now ignore so that I can do the important work that I do and also because there are so many, they just cause stress when I actually want to focus on making the right recommendations for my children and young people. Oh, and absolutely no sign of the staff survey results! I can’t think why…
    Cafcass, four years ago was the best place to work. Now, there is no way I would recommend it. I feel very sad. I worry that this article is trying to explain the reasons for high staff turnover being just about money, in order for senior management to deflect from what is really going on. Trust me, it is not just about money.