Frontline cuts in Cafcass……just one big question to answer

This is a guest blog post written by Ian Merry. Ian is a qualified and registered social worker who washed up on Cafcass’ shore in 2007 as a Family Support Worker in the Newcastle upon Tyne region. Prior to this he worked with vulnerable children and young people for over 37 years. Ian found the direct work with service users in Private Law to be challenging, demanding and exacting, particularly interviewing children to elicit and present to court their wishes and feelings about the issues that directly affect them.

Frontline cuts in Cafcass……just one big question to answer

I wish to thank Mr Philip Measures and Mr Tony Ryan for framing pertinent FOI questions regarding FSW’s and Cafcass.

You may not know that 55 Family Support Workers, (FSW’s), have been made redundant in Cafcass, nationally in March 2012, with a reduction of 2035 man hours lost per week in direct work, with no clear indication as to who is going to take up this shortfall in direct work with children and families in Private Law matters , post redundancy.

A parlous situation indeed.

You may know that Cafcass Family Support Workers were recruited to undertake direct work in Private law proceedings. Working with qualified Cafcass Family Court Advisers,  FSW’s undertook Wishes and Feelings exercises with children and young people, Level 2 Supervised and Reported Contacts, Family Assistance Orders, and other beneficial approaches like Family Group Conferences and Children First.

They became experts in Cafcass in direct work with children and their work was much recognised and praised by the magistracy, judiciary, and other stakeholders like Ofsted, over a period of 5 years.

The following e-mail was the first intimation of impending redundancy for most Cafcass FSW’s, sent notifying significant people of the plan to delete over 50 FSW posts nationally, in 2012.

Date: Fri, 20 Jan 2012 11:05:15

Subject: FSWs

Dear colleagues

Further to discussions at the Strategic Partnership meeting on 18 January 2012, I am writing to confirm the following:

•         We currently have 80fte Family Support Worker roles;

•         We are proposing to delete at least 50 of these roles and will be looking to retain 30 FSWs, subject to budgetary provision in the local areas;   

•         The 30 posts we are looking to retain will be on the basis where staff have either qualified, part qualified or are about to begin the social work degree.

•         Heads of Service will begin discussions with FSWs in the next week and a formal at risk letter, for eligible staff, will be sent next week;

•         We have made it clear in the letter that FSWs are encouraged to discuss any concerns/issues with Local Managers, HR and Trade Unions (where they are members);

•         We will work with colleagues on redeployment across Cafcass and the wider Civil Service;

•         The proposed termination of employment on grounds of redundancy will be 31 March 2012 (or from a date to be agreed locally between Heads of Service and FSWs based on local service needs);

•         We are also running a voluntary early retirement and severance programme alongside this process.

We will keep you updated and if you have any questions,  please do let me know.

Thanks,

Jabbar          Jabbar Sardar Director of HR and Organisational Development Cafcass

Under government spending  constraints  all Quangos had to make considerable efficiency savings year on year and after the first round of redundancies considered in 2010, how did the Cafcass Executive arrive at their plan to balance the 2012/13 budget, and how did the Cafcass Board endorse this? and who is going to take up the work of 55 full time FSW’s??

A disturbing feature of this situation surrounds the formulation and presentation of the need to make any frontline services redundant, by the Cafcass Executive to the Cafcass Board for consideration, where the livelihoods of 55 FSW’s are considered in a seemingly disrespectful manner, becomes a visibly unedifying spectacle.

FOI 567 request tell us that…..

“The Board discussed a proposal for savings at an informal seminar on 08 December 2011 when the CEO raised the issue of the need to make savings to balance the 2012/13 budget. Formal Cafcass business is not usually discussed at Board seminars or if it is raised, it is usually then added to the Board’s agenda by way of any other business at the following day’s Board meeting so that the discussion can be minuted.

Unfortunately due to an oversight this was not done on this occasion, so the minutes of  the Board’s meeting on 9 December do not contain a record of the discussion.

The attached is a record of the discussion 08 December 2011 –

The CEO gave a presentation to the Board at its seminar in which he put forward a savings programme which had been scoped by the Corporate Management Team to reach the savings total required whilst minimising the negative impact on service delivery. Members discussed the issues raised, including the pros and cons of deleting circa 50 Family Support Worker posts and concluded by endorsing the CEO’s proposal for savings”.

A number of further questions arise out of these revelations.

  • Why was the issue of redundancies up for discussion at an informal seminar on the 8th of December 2011 even though there’s a full Board Meeting the next day, the 9th of December 2011.
  • Why were no minutes taken at the seminar, considering that someone would have possessed writing materials at a seminar.
  • I have requested a copy of the CEO’s presentation to the Board and am awaiting sight of this.
  • Why was there no reference to the decision to make 55 staff redundant in the minutes of the formal Board meeting of the 9th of December.
  • Why no news item or press release concerning these redundancies.

Is this how things are done in Cafcass these days?

As a result of this distinct lack of useful information concerning these matters being readily available from Cafcass a further number of FOI questions were put to them

In answer to FOI questions dated 13th February 2012 ref CAF 523 below:

“1 Can  I  have  a  copy  of  the  management  plan  to  select  those  earmarked  for redundancy together with any other relevant information regarding this action?

Cafcass are deleting Family Support Worker (FSW) posts as our service is changing more into a Family Court advisor (FCA)-based service, in which all practitioners need to be able to produce a strong case analysis as early in the court process as possible, in both public and private law cases.

Direct work in private law cases will need to be undertaken on the whole by commissioned services. The budget for those services is a separate budget from Government and that is being maintained next year”.

2 Why is this necessary?

Up to 55 FSW posts will be deleted from 1 April 2012, as part of a savings package of £2.5 million, which is the minimum amount we must save if we are to balance our budget next year (2012/13). Around 25 FSW’s will be retained. Our savings packages in past years have been able to avoid cutting into front line posts.

3 Who is going to take up their direct work with children?

In the future, support for children and their parent/s in private law cases will primarily come from commissioned services. FCA’s will advise courts about the suitability and availability of these services locally in individual cases.

4 Have any managers taken a pay cut in order to prevent reductions in frontline staff?

Over the past three years, all the savings have been made from corporate functions or deletion of management roles. These are now at minimum staffing levels in all Cafcass functions, so there are no more large numbers of back room posts we can safely delete.

Despite political and organisational pledges to protect frontline services, here we appear to have one axed without a murmur.

However on we go…..in answer to a further FOI request regarding the stated transfer of work from FSW’s to external providers which appeared to be the case on the 13th of February Cafcass now  says on the 2nd April 2012 ref:  JJ/CAF 544:

“There will be no outsourcing. There is no TUPE situation as the work is not being outsourced. Cafcass will save £1.6m from 54 posts”.

So where is the work going to go?….we’re talking about 2035 man hours a week which I know were fully used…..and more.

In answer to FOI request reference number 2012/0029300 on 31-05-2012 DfE gives the following figures for the budgets set for externally commissioned services from 2007 onwards:

“I am also reproducing here the headline figures held by the Department since 2007 as per your request”:

•             2012/13 – Cafcass budget is £127.4mn. In addition Cafcass will receive £1.9m for contact services.

•             2011/12 – Cafcass budget was £130mn of which £3.4mn was spent on contact services.

•             2010/11 – Cafcass budget was £143.4mn of which £3.4mn was spent on contact services.

•             2009/10 – Cafcass budget was £131.2mn of which £3.4mn was spent on contact services.

•             2008/09 – Cafcass budget was £113.9mn of which £3.4mn was spent on contact services.

•             2007/08 – Cafcass budget was £107mn of which £2.5mn was spent on contact services.

As the figures state the budget has been £3.4mn for the last 4 years but now with all the additional work externally commissioned services will have to do in 2012/13, they will have to do this with a major reduction in funds down to £1.9mn for this year….almost halved….how does that work??

Well the common sense answer is that it doesn’t work, but then neither does this current situation where a definitive answer is still needed as to how the work of 55 full time practitioners in direct work is going to be absorbed by Cafcass without any increase in resources internally or externally and without reducing services to service users or causing further delay……over to you Mr Douglas.

All FOI information can be checked on the “What Do They Know” Website and great respect to them for providing a genuinely useful public service.

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29 thoughts on “Frontline cuts in Cafcass……just one big question to answer

  1. Philip Measures

    I congratulate Ian Merry on seeking to bring to the forefront of public and professional awareness the serious issues within CAFCASS for whom I was with briefly as an agency Service Manager.

    I found the work of the Family Support Workers within CAFCASS to be highly impressive and essential within what should be a child-centred Organisation. They had real skills in ascertaining the ‘Wishes and Feelings’ of children & young people and wotking both pre and post-Hearings with them – the only REAL therapeutic element of work that I witnessed of any description.

    Over the past 5 years CAFCASS has also dismissed some 50 staff on health grounds – and hardly any for other reasons – could stress be another major issue that workers are experiencing (see other FOI responses)?

    Ian Merry is also seeking to continue to expose the abuse at [edited for legal reasons] School and is one of the few people I know genuinely prepared to put his own livelihood and health on the line in the pursuit of what is right – a lesson to many of us about what social work really ought to be about.

  2. I think the answer to your question of how this work is going to be taken up is that the work will disappear once there is a legislative presumption of shared parenting and Non Resident Parents will no longer have to prove their fitness to parent their own children by endless reports from Cafcass officers.

    Didn’t Ofsted recently declare Cafcass unfit for purpose?

  3. Tony Booth-Lydon

    If CAFCASS actually worked then I would be alarmed but from experience both personal and gained from my involvement with a huge number of parents throughout the country CAFCASS involvement in many cases causes ridiculous delay and furthers an already conflicted situation. The reduction to use of “wishes and feelings reports” is a disgrace in itself as it puts children, as young as 5 years old who are stuck in the middle of the conflict, in a position where what they say (bearing in mind they are spending a significantly greater amount of time with one parent) has effects that will be with them for the rest of their lives. CAFCASS has no consistency in recomendations to court and in many cases either sits on the fence or supports the status quo (in favour of the “resident parent” in the face of not only evidence but common sense for fear of actually doing the right thing and protecting a child’s right to have a full and meaningful relationship with both parents. Cases end up in court usually because one parent is putting their own needs,feelings and sometimes ideologies ahead of the Child’s rights. Until CAFCASS undergoes a sea change in attitude I’m afraid they will garner very little sympathy from separated parents both resident and non resident.

  4. Philip Measures

    ‘Brian’ is not correct – although there will be a presumption of shared parenting (and so there should be) there will be many instances where for the ‘safety and well-being’ of the child(ren) CAFCASS Reports will still be required for the Children Act 1989 to be satisfied and those will also need to demonstrate that the ‘wishes and feelings’ of the child(ren) have been taken into account.

    I visualise no real reduction in the work required / needed – but that is quite different, of course, from CAFCASS moving towards a reduction in its services.

  5. I just feel for the CAFCASS workers. I know two people who work for them and they have an impossible job: under-funded, under-resourced, and frankly not paid enough for the sterling work they do in the face of cuts.

  6. Philip Measures

    Isn’t it sad that Ian Merry’s Blog has attracted so few responses when he raises fundamental issues about the whole ethos and governance of CAFCASS. Perhaps the level of apathy explains why CAFCASS can operate as it does.

  7. If people thought the Cafcass case workers who did “Wishes and Feelings” reports did a good job and were of value to the process there would be an uproar at this threat to their positions….

    (tumble weed rolls by)

  8. Michael Griffith-Jones

    Hard though it must be for FSWs at Cafcass to receive such an email as this, it seems that Cafcass is confirming that it no longer takes at all seriously its statutory function of working to safeguard the interests of children.

    It was bad enough that cafcass no longer saw it as the task of Guardians or FCAs to do the work with children that got delegated to FSWs, but now that unimportant task will go where? There is no evidence that an organisation whose chief executive has suggested there may be no need to see young children at all can be fit for its original purpose.

    In a succesful sleight of hand it seems that Cafcass now sees itself as having two functions: to work with adults about children (but not with or for children) and to produce regular statistics on how many children are subject of care orders. It is the latter that management seems most proud of.

  9. inflagrantedilecto

    I believe your post is insightful Michael…it seems to me that in fact Cafcass has become a numbers organisation with the only notable figures worthy of printing are the numbers of children with care applications from Local Authorities…the numbers successfully removed from birth families and the amount of reports, prepared by Cafcass practitioners, reaching courts on time…there is no other game…and no other reason for Cafcass to continue to exist in its current configuration…..and I know that I am not the only person to note this sudden decline into perdition of a formerly valued and valuable service.

  10. It would be nice to think that the Government are cutting CAFCASS in expectation that the dubious pleasure of their `services’ won’t be required due to a presumption of shared parenting.

    Too many courts are happy to `pass the buck’ to CAFCASS to investigate cases where there are no welfare concerns – just a false allegation made in an attempt to prevent a child having a meaningful relationship with both parents.

  11. Philip Measures

    In response to Steven please see my comments on Community Care ‘CareSpace’ Forum – and merit?

    I was always concerned at the delays in Contact being re-established once the legal process was commenced. Initial Applications to stop Contact, for instance, were often made with minimal supportive evidence (in the form of Affidavits) and despite Police and Local authority Checks coming back negative the whole process ground on and on making re-establishing Contact for the ‘absent’ parent even more difficult.

    So I would welcome comments on my preferred Procedure!

    It always seemed to me that Private Law Applications ought to be broadly dealt with as follows;

    a) On receipt of Application Court checks that there is a supportive Affidavit (in support of the originating Application) – if not that 14 days are set for one to be submitted.

    b) If any apparent immediate Safeguarding concerns which seem to meet the Threshold Criteria CA1989 Sec 31 (2) the matter be referred immediately to CAFCASS to ascertain whether the Local Authority should be the Lead Agency.

    c) CAFCASS undertakes Social Services / Police checks if Case remains with it otherwise immediate transfer to the Local Authority.

    d) Within 21 days CAFCASS receives copy of Applicant’s Affidavit.

    e) Copy of Applicant’s Affidavit is sent to Respondent(s) within 3 days of receipt by the Court with a 14 day timeline for a formal affidavit in response.

    f) If no safeguarding Concerns elicited which meet the Threshold Criteria (as also agreed by CAFCASS) that the Court requests details of Contact Arrangements from the Applicant.

    g) Mediation be offered by CAFCASS if Contact Arrangements not agreed.

    IF Concerns elicited the:

    a) Immediate allocation to FCA for further investigation as to whether Sec. 7 Report indicated – or to initiate Sec. 7 Report is formally requested by the Court.

    b) That the Child’s wishes and Feelings are determined within 21 days with the involvement of a FSW if deemed appropriate.

    c) That in the absence of Contact taking place with the ‘absent’ parent the impact of this be ascertained as far as possible by contact also with Schools.

    d) That any relevant Health enquiries are made in respect of child and both Applicant and Respondent.

    e) That where there is no Risk to the Child indicated that Contact be agreed to resume within 28 days at a mutually convenient time / location.

    f) That all Risk factors be investigated and reported on back to the Court within 28 days.

    g) That mediation be offered where deemed appropirate.

    h) That the matter return to Court for either a finalisation of arrangements or to discuss matters still subject to Dispute only.

  12. How about the person alleging abuse PROVE it? We don’t subject parents to a test of parenting ability before they have a child, why do we subject “absent” parents to checks before they are allowed to have contact? Why is it that a resident parent can make allegations and stop contact without any proof and then not suffer any repercussions if those allegations are found to be false?

    If a non-resident parent makes allegations of abuse, why isn’t the child immediately taken away from the resident parent? Where is the equality in your proposal?

    • The person alleging abuse IS required to prove it. Where a non-resident parent makes allegations of abuse they are also required to prove it, and where the potential risk is deemed too great to manage at home the child is likely to be removed pending a hearing where that allegation can be tested and found proved or not.

  13. They don’t have to prove it before contact is stopped do they? Contact is stopped, the allegations are usually proved false and no consequences for the false accuser – so what’s preventing resident parents making false allegations? Nothing.

    If a Non-resident parent makes allegations, not only is the child left with the resident parent until (of if) it’s looked into, but the non-resident parent will then be cut out of the picture for not supporting the resident parent.

    • well, I take your point but I think it depends on the circumstances. Courts are far better at reinstating contact in the interim where appropriate and at analysing at an early stage whether allegations would actually justify a cessation of contact even if proved than they once were.

  14. And while contact is stopped, the resident parent sets about indoctrinating the child that the other parent is a danger to them. This period can last months until the magical “Wishes and Feelings” report where the child strangely decides they don’t want to see their other parent despite having wanted to see them before contact was stopped.

    “Oh” says the judge, “well I can’t force a child to have contact”. This despite the case law which, to paraphrase says that we don’t allow a child to stop going to school just because they “don’t want to” so why should their saying they don’t want contact override their best interest, which is a meaningful relationship with both parents.

    • Brian,
      It’s a familiar scenario and it’s a constant battle to stop it happening. I do think judges are getting better at nipping it in the bud but it is very difficult when CAFCASS want desperately to class all private law cases as “no role for CAFCASS” and when listings are at a premium. I agree the theory is not the same as the practice all too often.

  15. inflagrantedilecto

    In practical terms Brian, because it involves a degree of distress in the child which not only makes professionals uneasy but also the parent who is trying to maintain or re-establish contact.

    I have observed successful contact after a degree of distress in the child but I have also had to suspend contact because I felt the degree of distress exhibited by the child was too much. These are not easy decisions to make, but make them someone must because it is in nobody’s interest to arouse unnecessary distress in a child. Nothing legal here…just common sense.

  16. Philip Measures

    That is why my proposed method of dealing with Applications would remove much of the current in-built delaying tactics that can be used.

    CAFCASS needs to apply the same ‘Safeguarding’ criteria as the Local Authority. CAFCASS does not have the skills and expertise to ‘investigate’ serious Child Abuse and that is why I feel it is vital that either parent alleging it should also produce ‘evidence’ – if that evidence is below the LA criteria then there has to be a presumption of Contact – after all which parents have a perfect relationship and bring up their children perfectly?

    Solicitors also need to remember that ‘the child comes first’ and not knowingly or wilfully collude with parents in delaying / denying Contact when they know that the facts do not justify such.

  17. Familoo. Are judges getting better at nipping it in the bud? Not in my experience. There is still the same old reaction that Brian describes so graphically. The fact is that there is no recognised judicial strategy to deal with this common situation, despite the decision of Munby LJ in F v M (http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2004/727.html). So often, we end up with the semi-detached CAFCASS officer and the irresolute judge copping out and making no order. In my time at the Bar I can count on the fingers of one hand the occasions when judges have transferred residence in the face of the residential parent’s implacable hostility.

    • Stephen – I said better, I didn’t say much better. Some judges are pretty good at it, although I think even the proactive ones are struggling with overlisting and the numbers of LiPs which makes it difficult for them to devote attention to the actual issues in individual cases as they need. I agree transfer of residence is a rarely used threat, what I was referring to was I think a greater willingness to say at an early stage that contact has to resume / continue in some shape or form whilst we sort out allegations / whilst we move forward. I think there is some improvement on that level.

  18. Philip Measures

    A CAFCASS Board member (see FOI requests – What do they Know? website) has recently stated that CAFCASS does not know what works for children & young people. CAFCASS is now refusing, however, to respond to any of my FOI requests alleging that I am conducting a ‘campaign’ against it – so much for their openness and transparency policy!!!

    I do urge anyone with clear evidence of wrongdoings to contact their MP as it seems essential that the select Committee needs to urgently examine where CAFCASS is currently at – it has made redundant some 55 Family Support Workers and appears to now be spending money instead on ‘Contracted Services’ which must be more expensive.

  19. Philip Measures

    And I wonder what they view of CAFCASS, Guardians, Family Court Advisers; solicitors and judges and especially parents will be around the issues of Compromise Agreements and ‘gagging’ clauses which CAFCASS uses against errant staff.

    Staff must feel free to ‘whistle-blow’ / raise issues of concerns without fear of reprisals from their employer.

  20. Having recently come to the end of the disciplinary process, I feel utterly betrayed by Cafcass. I foolishly believed right up to the last moment they would be fair, honest and understanding. I made an error, on a single case, that had significant consequences for the resident father and child, for which I am truly sorry.

    FCA’s make judgement calls every day and as professionals we cannot always hope to get them right. The important thing is to try to remedy the mistake by being honest. I was grateful to be reinstated, but within 3 months, despite my closely monitored work being assessed as good, I found myself removed from my post and subsequently dismissed. Reason: irretrievable breakdown in trust. I have learned that Cafcass use this catch all category as an acceptable mode of dismissing employees. There is no defense against it.
    Since my 4 years with Cafcass I have personally seen 1 head of service, 1 service manager, 1 HR person leave Cafcass in ‘not to be discussed’ circumstances, all from the same area as myself within the last 2 years.
    It appears from my experience that Cafcass senior management refuse to consider how their decision making contributes to mistakes being made. FCA’s invest so much in the organisation, I am so sad that the organisation cannot do the same for its employees.

  21. Philip Measures

    Yes, you too have experienced the unforgiving nature of CAFCASS and its very questionable use of Compromise Agreements / ‘gagging’ Clauses.

    There is one thing in disciplining staff for errors and quite another to let staff go in highly questionable circumstances which never reach a resolution and where staff who have left subject to Compromise Agreements may still represent a danger professionally rather than being properly dealt with – unfortunately its less than even-handed approach must mean that it is, if fact, CAFCASS itself where there is loss of trust.

    As your case went through CAFCASS’s Disciplinary Procedures I assume that you were properly represented? What do you think they did wrong in dismissing you? It is unclear whether you were dismissed after the initial Disciplinary Proceedings – did CAFCASS ‘re-visit’ the original errors or what?

  22. After 3 months of being reinstated, a further reconvened hearing took place, where senior management brought allegations of new concerns. By seeking permission from them to consider reviewing an aspect of the action plan (in order to provide a better service to children ) was unfortunately translated into an allegation of failing to demonstrate enough insight into my error and as a consequence of this Cafcass felt there was a loss of trust.

    Adequately represented! This is difficult to answer, because my expectations of Unison were very much at odds with what was on offer. i expected Unison to fight my corner for me, using their vast knowledge of employment law but this was not my experience.

    Unison provided a FCA’ employed by Cafcass to support me. I had to fight my own corner in what was an emotionally debilitating character assassination. The Unison/Cafcass representative was supportive and very personable, but the responsibility for challenging senior management was very much left in my court.

    The difficulty I encountered was trying to fight against opinion and assertion. I made a judgement call and Cafcass didn’t agree with me. Of course there is much more to this, but this is not the forum in which to explore it.

    I am interested to hear from others who have experienced similar difficulties.

  23. Philip Measures

    UNISON and NAPO both have a lot to answer for – one would expect that after years of paying one’s subscriptions they would ensure that in ALL matters where a person’s continued employment was an issue that as a matter of course they would ensure a legal opinion was given and that in any Disciplinary / Dismissal / Appeal Hearings there would be proper legal representation.

    To be represented by another employee raises serious issues as to what degree of true independence really exists.

    I am aware of Trade Union failures to offer proper advice and to ensure that Applications were submitted on time – just like employers the Trades Unions also have a ‘Duty of Care’ to their members.

  24. The role of CAFCASS is superfluous. I recently attended the Family Court where we had both parents represented by Legal Aid. The Social Worker responsible for the case and a Legal Representative, plus a Guardian and Legal Representative. Cafcass only duplicate the Social Worker who has more contact with the child, yet the a judge listens to the Guardian who has only met the child once in a year. Time this QUANGO is assigned to the dustbin of history

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