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Unhearing CAFCASS Update

February 24, 2010

In relation to my previous posting and for the sake of balance here are some of the reactions from Cafcass to recent criticism.

About the Nick Cohen article I quoted, the (soon to be ex) Head of Communications for Cafcass Takki Sulaiman (as Takki S) commented :-

This is extraordinary and a very nasty article in general. Nick Cohen is merely repeating Napo assertions that are just not based in fact. There has been no doubling of head office staff at Cafcass – in fact some good people are losing their jobs as we seek to drive more funding to protect frontline services because of the massive increases in cases since November 2008. Head Office costs are at 2006 levels – but Mr Fletcher forgot to brief Mr Cohen that our 2008-09 figures contain a £3.1million pension service charge because of increased Cafcass pension liabilities. Mr Cohen forgot to check with Cafcass – but of course he did not want to let the facts get in the way of a good story. The reality is that a very, very small minority of Napo members are facing action over the poor quality of their work. Organisations such as Cafcass have a duty to manage and improve the performance of its work to ensure vulnerable children receive a safe service. Good record keeping is the foundation of strong interagency communication. It can save lives too as countless serious case reviews have found. Napo should be supporting this rather than seeking to back poor quality practice.

About the File of Four programme the BBC quote the Cafcass CEO, Anthony Douglas as saying:-

“I can guarantee you would find no more than five [Cafcass social workers] who have had at times more then 20 cases to care take.” He told File on 4 that cases had to be subject to triage, with the higher priority cases getting urgent attention. He added: “Unfortunately, some of the lower priority cases take months to deal with.” He said that the service was working on 30,000 cases, with the number of unallocated cases down to 400. “That is still too many but we are no different from any front line organisation trying to manager this increased demand.” Mr Douglas added: “It is really unproductive to blame one agency out of many for the pressures on the whole system. “We have got 20% less time per case because of the increase in cases but that still leaves a lot of professional time and in the cases that we look at day in and day out we still save children’s lives and improve their outcomes.”

The official Cafcass press release denyng claims by NAPO is to be found here, and copy of a letter from Mr Douglas to all Cafcass staff will be found here.

Make of all this what you will. I find it worrying that Mr Sulaiman appears to hint that internal critics may face action over poor quality work and that  both Mr Sulaiman and Mr Douglas attempt a bit of shroud waving; “it [good recording] can save lives” – TK, and “we still save children’s lives” – AD.

The social workers out in communities protecting children and taking emergency action when necessary are not the Cafcass Family Court Advisers, they are the much un-appreciated social workers in  local authority Children’s Service departments. Cafcass is not a front line service, it is an important but second layer service advising the courts what it is best to do about children already identified by Children’s Services as being at risk of harm.

Mr Douglas says he is “not in denial”. I am sure some of the criticisms of Cafcass are misdirected and some may be self-serving or even malicious, but many are not. Some critics are knowlegable, well informed and well-meaning as Mr Douglas must be aware. Unfortunately there is little sign of him or his organisation emerging from behind their barricades to engage constructively even with responsible critics.

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