Open letter to CAFCASS

“An open letter in respect of my resignation from Cafcass

26 September 2011

Dear  …………………,

I have long had my doubts as to whether Cafcass as an organisation is fit for purposeI have been critical of the honesty and integrity of the management of the service, things that continue to concern me.  I have to agree with the many individuals and organisations who have concluded that the problems of Cafcass are so manifold and entrenched   that any satisfactory solution requires a complete transformation.

This has, inevitably created tensions in my employment, particularly as Cafcass has become increasingly prescriptive in the way in which it requires its advisors to work.  The emergence and consolidation within Cafcass of a ‘compliance culture where meeting performance management demands becomes the dominant focus rather than meeting the needs of children and their families’ (Munro Review of Child Protection: Final Report: HMSO May 2011) is something that I, and many of my colleagues have found to be deeply troubling.

I have therefore, reluctantly, come to the conclusion that it is not possible for me, as a Cafcass employee, properly to represent the interests  of children nor to report independently, honestly and helpfully to the court in a way that is consistent with my statutory duties and my professional conscience.  Fulfilling the statutory duties  of a family court reporter requires a degree of professional autonomy which Cafcass employees are, in practice, effectively denied by the compliance culture and its various managerial buttresses.

I have  therefore resigned from Cafcass.  My last day of service was yesterday.

It is not possible for me personally to contact everyone with whom I have worked over many years but I would like to express my thanks to everyone within the Bristol and Avon Family Justice world for the generous advice, assistance and support I have received in all sorts of ways.  Please feel free to circulate this letter – and apologies to those I have not contacted directly.

Yours sincerely

Charles Place”

Background:

CAFCASS WEBSITE

Charles Place was suspended from CAFCASS in 2009 and allegations of misconduct made against him in connection with his voicing of concerns about the operation of CAFCASS were not upheld by the General Social Care Council. In it’s decision notice the GSCC stated that Mr Place’s criticism of delay in CAFCASS reporting on a private forum was “legitimate” and that “the facts supported the stance taken by [Mr Place] that CAFCASS had put a dishonest spin on the scale of the problems it faced.” The decision notice can be found here.

Anthony Douglas, CEO CAFCASS

Anthony Douglas, CEO CAFCASS

I contacted Charles Place as a courtesy to ask if he minded the above letter being posted on Pink Tape. In his reply Mr Place raises a number of other points which, if an accurate reflection of how CAFCASS is operating, are very concerning. I have thought about whether or not it would be appropriate to include those supplemental comments in this blog post, but it seems to me that the questions raised are serious ones, and which are of public interest. I have however left out parts of the correspondence which might identify any individual, or which concern the detail of Mr Place’s working relationship with specific colleagues.

I do not know whether the information below is entirely accurate – others may respond and tell me that Mr Place is wrong – but I do know that much of what he says is entirely consistent with my own observations and what other CAFCASS officers have told me openly or in confidence. I am however merely an outsider to the organisation, albeit that I have regular and frequent contact with it’s representatives, and struggle daily to match needs of individual families with the a la carte menu of defined and restricted services that is a feature of post-Interim-Guidance CAFCASS.

In fairness to CAFCASS, they have of late received more positive inspection reports than in previous years (one example is here), which is an indication that they are doing something right. It is also fair to point out that CAFCASS, like other areas of the family justice system, continue to operate under increasing demand (see here: August care stats at record levels).

Charles Place’s comments:

“I was suspended from work (again) in May of this year. The precise reasons for this were never really clear – evidence cited was a few internal. mildly disrespectful and slightly ranty emails and a spat over the content of some of my ‘schedule 2′ letters.  

I admit that I had been  aggrieved. Following my vindication by the GSCC last September in respect of Cafcass charges of ‘gross misconduct’ – which basically said my saying that Cafcass was dishonest couldn’t be misconduct because it was true –  I failed to  get any sort of proper apology.  
.
I have tended to avoid taking on public law cases for several years now because it has seemed to me almost impossible to do the job properly within the constraints imposed by Cafcass, and also because of a genuine fear of being subject to something like what happened to the CG in the Re K case – far from this being a ‘one off’  as claimed by Cafcass it seemed to me to be ‘an accident waiting to happen’  given the  attitudes of the Cafcass management.
 
As someone now primarily involved in private law work I felt  that there were real issues in the switch to the kind of intervention by Cafcass embodied in the ‘schedule 2  letters that are now submitted pre 1st directions hearing.  The actual preparation of the letters required us slavishly to conform to a procedure: scripted telephone calls, rigidly restricted enquiries, a highly prescriptive template ‘quality controlled’ by a manager armed with three pages of tick boxes….The letters purport to be some sort of risk assessment and are often used   to warrant Cafcass’ opposition to the making of any orders at all. They are a good example of an embodiment in practice  of what Prof Munro calls ‘The false hope of eliminating risk’ – which  ’has contributed significantly to the repeated use of increased prescription as the solution to perceived problems. Consequently this has increased defensive practice by professionals so that children and young people’s best interests are not always at the heart of decisions…’
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Any ‘risk assessment’ that relies on telephone interviews with the participants is bound to be limited in its validity.  The exclusion of any contact with the child in any circumstances for the purpose of writing a sched 2 harks back to the perception of the child simply as ‘object of concern’ as Lady Butler Schloss put it.

Reliance on these letters as the main Cafcass activity in private law cases has of course drastically reduced the capacity of the service to report under section 7. Consequently for a greatly increased proportion of children the possibility of their case being properly investigated with due reference to section 1.3 is lost. 

Eileen Munro

Eileen Munro

What was  really bugging me in May – in the context of many  other jobsworth type bureaucratic requirements if you know what I mean, was that because I had omitted to refer in some of my sched 2  letters to ‘issues of diversity’  - even though i had no reason to believe that there were issues of this kind that were relevant to the application (and I accept, of course that sometimes such issues are very relevant) – my professional competence was being called into question and i was told to redraft letters that seemed to me – for what they were worth – perfectly adequate.  It seemed to impossible to have any sort of discussion or argument about this – or other aspects of the sched 2 policy without it becoming a disciplinary matter.

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Vera Fahlberg the American psychotherapist who wrote with such insight on issues of childhood attachment, fostering, loss etc was an admirer of the pre Cafcass system for representing children. She wrote – in the nineties – ‘every child needs an ‘irrational advocate’ such a person as a guardian ad litem who will not be hidebound by rules and regulations and can be creative and imaginative.’  That was, pre cafcass something of a mantra for me and the absurdity of trying to substitute ‘cafcass officer’ for ‘Guardian ad litem’ in this passage is probably as good a way as any of understanding why I felt I had to get out of it!”

Mr Place draws my attention to the evidence of CAFCASS Chief Exec Anthony Douglas at the Parliamentary Public Accounts and Justice Committees, and the case of A County Council v K & Ors (By the Child’s Guardian Ht) [2011] EWHC 1672 (Fam) (04 July 2011) (brief blog post here), which for him are evidence that problems persist. The Munro report is also quoted, and that can be found here.

I would welcome comment or response from CAFCASS.

Please keep any comments respectful and confined to the organisational issues not attacks on individuals.

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40 thoughts on “Open letter to CAFCASS

  1. one has to be a yes man to work for government. Oh, and prepared to give up a piece of your soul. And self respect.

    It is a pity as these organisations start off meaning well.

  2. The Ofsted Inspection of Cafcass N1 November 2010.

    A Forensic Analysis by an eyewitness practitioner.
    ?
    ?
    The Author.
    I am a qualified and experienced practitioner who needs to remain anonymous due to the Cafcass practice of vindictive prosecutions of any member of the Cafcass workforce who speaks out on any work related issue and who’s experience differs from that of the Cafcass executive. See links to Charles Place, Jasvinder Bains etc.
    http://www.communitycare.co.uk/blogs/social-care-the-big-picture/2010/09/cafcass-misused-regulation-in-trying-to-silence-criticism.html
    http://www.communitycare.co.uk/Articles/2011/01/13/116097/gscc-may-have-breached-social-workers-human-rights.htm
    ?
    ?
    ?
    The Issues.
    Both Cafcass and Ofsted have been viewed as failing organisations in recent years and both have a verdict of, “Not fit for purpose”, hanging over them in spite of their corporate protestations.
    Both organisations are earmarked for reform. It is the purpose of this report to aid that reform by accurately telling you what actually happened in Cafcass N1 in 2010 and then measuring this against the written evidence of the significant parties.
    ?
    Sources of Evidence.
    1. Ofsted Inspection Report of Cafcass N1 region dated 26/11/2010
    2. Cafcass Press Releases dated 15th December 2010
    3. F.O.I. request to, and reply from, Ofsted in April 2011
    4. Letter to Anthony Douglas, CEO Cafcass from John Goldup, National Director, Inspection Development, Ofsted.
    5. Excerpts and quotes from a variety of House of Commons Select Committee Reports involving Cafcass, Ofsted and ` NAPO.
    ?
    ?
    ?
    ?
    ?
    Ofsted detail their methodology for this inspection and come to the following conclusion;
    “Inspection of Cafcass in N1 – North and South of Tyne
    This letter summarises the findings of the recent inspection of Cafcass in
    North and South of Tyne which was conducted on 17 and 18 November 2010.
    The inspection was carried out under sections 143–145 of the Education and inspections Act 2006. I would like to thank all of the staff we met for their assistance in undertaking this inspection.

    The inspection sampled the quality and effectiveness of progress that is being made against the Cafcass Transformation Plan through aspects of the existing published framework for the inspection of Cafcass, focusing on aspects of:
    ???? ambition and prioritisation
    ???? performance management
    ???? safeguarding
    ???? service responsiveness.
    Inspectors considered a range of evidence, including: case records;
    observation of family court advisers undertaking duty arrangements; and
    other information provided by stakeholders, staff and managers. Inspectors also spoke to a range of staff including managers, family court advisers, other practitioners and administrative staff.
    Overall progress
    Judgement: Good progress”.
    ?
    ?
    As I was reading the inspection report for the umpteenth time a thought leaped out at me that I hadn’t previously considered and that was about for whom is this report written? and how useful this report would be to them?
    This is an excerpt from the Ofsted vision statement;

    “To contribute to improving services and their outcomes for users we will report with impartiality and integrity. We will communicate our findings with, and listen to, all who have an interest in improving them, from service providers to policy-makers. We want to raise aspirations and contribute to a longer term vision for achieving ambitious standards“.

    Methodology.
    Much as been made of the knowledge and expertise of Ofsted inspectors when inspecting specialised services for children. It would appear that Ofsted like many other public services subscribe to the current managerial orthodoxy that anyone with managerial or strategic experience can be dropped in to manage any enterprise including child protection services without prior adequate, ”domain knowledge”, of those services so I asked Ofsted for the qualifications and relevant experiences of those inspectors in a F.O.I. request.
    They answered:

    “Ofsted do not hold specific C.V.’s for the inspectors beyond normal H.R. material. Their qualifications and experience are their personal information and therefore exempt.”
    So we can conclude that we don’t know if the qualifications and professional experiences of inspectors are necessary and sufficient for them to be able to inspect Cafcass with any degree of integrity or authority.

    I find this bizarre that a public authority charged with the qualitative inspection of services for vulnerable children and which is predicated on possessing superior knowledge and authority to those services it inspects does not choose to promote the knowledge and expertise of those officers carrying out inspections.

    Further I find it incomprehensible that Ofsted should use the personal data defence when it must be a pre-requirement before appointment that all prospective inspectors must supply a full list of all prior employment and study to Ofsted.

    Current political thought calls for greater openness and transparency in public services and I would hope that Ofsted’s current policy in this respect comes under scrutiny and challenge.
    ?
    This inspection was a paper exercise, very little interaction took place between inspectors and practitioners. Ofsted says that,

    “Cases were selected randomly from a list of recently completed cases supplied by Cafcass”
    ?
    On the day of the inspection Mr Darren Shaw, Cafcass Operational Director for the North, descended on the Cafcass office with an entourage of assistants, some drafted in at very short notice from distant parts of the U.K.

    Major disruption was experienced by practitioners as these bureaucrats set up forward H.Q. Desks were moved, drawers emptied, staff shunted hither and thither whilst fighting the infection of inspection anxiety emanating from these invaders like garlic breath.

    Mr Shaw and his merry band were up until 2 am in the morning reading, assessing, weeding and pre-selecting files presumably so that those busy Ofsted inspectors didn’t have to do this for themselves. Would this degree of pre-selection work qualify as putting your best goods at the front whilst hiding the inferior at the rear in an attempt to steer the inspectors towards, “good files“. Just asking!

    At the very least it casts doubt on the dictionary definition of “randomly”.
    I don’t wish to impugn the quality of my colleagues or indeed my own work in relation to case files but we all know that what both Cafcass and Ofsted want to see in a case file doesn’t correspond to the actuality as practitioners do not have enough time with current caseloads to maintain pristine files.
    However, even with pre-selected reports the inspectors found some disquieting inconsistencies,

    “Some quality assurance processes, such as supervision and
    management oversight of reports are not sufficiently rigorous. As a
    result, the quality of reports presented to court is too variable“.

    It seems to me that this is just as much a criticism of managers as it is of practitioners as all reports are quality assured to pre-determined standards by managers before they are presented to the parties and to courts. Also whilst mention of supervision is made this term is redundant in Cafcass and caseload capacity and allocation should be substituted.

    Caseloads are mentioned in passing by Ofsted and I quote,

    ” the combination of a large amount of residual work at the same time as needing to embrace a new system has resulted in some staff reporting that they feel unable to manage the increase in their workloads“.

    Note how this issue is conflated with changes being implemented to moves towards a new system and by nature one would expect these changes and associated difficulties would be temporary. Nothing could be further from the truth which is that despite new and cut down approaches introduced into Cafcass on a crisis basis, there is still more work coming in the front door than can be managed safely with the current resource configuration in Cafcass and that the additional weight is being borne by practitioners.

    The Ofsted report and subsequent press releases from Cafcass reveal an overarching priority bordering on obsession with allocation of a case to a named and substantive worker. This work, once allocated, is then left to the discretion of the individual worker to determine how much or in reality, how little they can safely expend working the case. This has led to huge increases in caseloads across the board with individual practitioners regularly working in excess of their statutory hours.

    Inspectors were told this and other significant matters which impact directly on children and families in their meeting with practitioners, but as I asked Ofsted under a F.O.I. request for written minutes, they revealed that inspectors do not make formal minutes of these meetings only “limited notes”, which they didn’t supply to me.

    We can deduce from the above that whatever practitioners had to say to the inspectors was regarded as irrelevant to the inspectors’ task and therefore was completely ignored.
    ?
    What do the inspectors say about the management of N1, and I quote:

    “The Head of Service and the newly appointed management team have an accurate understanding of the strengths and challenges of the service area. The area business plan appropriately prioritises the key areas for effective delivery and improvement of services to children and families”.
    ?
    What the inspectors don’t tell us are the circumstances which resulted in 3 managers being newly appointed and the other manager supplied by an agency. One manager is a replacement for a manager on maternity leave, the others are replacements for managers who have left Cafcass under mysterious circumstances.

    2 of these managers were on long term sick leave during the inspection and have subsequently left Cafcass employ. So out of 4 managers on the staff establishment of N1 3 are newly appointed and one is a long term agency manager.

    What has gone on in N1 to have a clean sweep of managers at a time of crisis for Cafcass. We may never know as Ofsted either didn’t ask or didn’t consider this fact important enough to comment on.
    But don’t worry there is a business plan:

    “The system is currently supported through the use of additional temporary staff who will leave Cafcass in January 2011. Plans are in place to ensure the sustainability of the system when this resource ends”
    These agency staff including a service manager are still working in N1.… 5 months after the inspection with no end in sight.

    So the above information is inaccurate to say the least.
    Darren Shaw, Operational Director went out of his way to praise managers and said in the press release dated 15-12-10:

    “The report particularly highlights the effectiveness and leadership of the Head of Service and local management team and the role they have played in improving our service”.
    What leadership? What effectiveness? Is it effective to lose key managers at a time of crisis. Is it good leadership to continue to employ an agency service manager for nearly a year with the increased cost of this to the public purse? Is it good leadership to allow inaccurate information to be printed in an Osted report?

    However Darren Shaw then moves on to staff after he has fulsomely praised his managerial minions and by implication, himself. He says:

    “However, all staff can be proud of this result and I know that they will continue to work together to provide children in the area with the help and support they need.”
    Ofsted inspectors single out the work of Family Support Workers in N1. They say:

    ‘Wishes and Feeling’ reports produced by family support workers are
    good and effectively allow children to voice their concerns and influence plans for their future. These reports are appreciated by the courts in helping them make considered decisions“.

    Anthony Douglas re-iterates this in the press release of 15-12-2010 thus:

    “In particular, they,(the inspectors) highlighted the way in which our wishes and feelings reports effectively allow children to voice their concerns and influence plans for the future and are key in helping the courts to reach a decision in their best interests“.
    So Cafcass Family Support Workers get an honourable mention for their work by inspectors. Inspectors who didn’t speak to them or observe them in practice but whose work was validated by the judiciary.

    It is curious in their celebratory press releases Family Support Workers are not singled out or mentioned by role either by Darren Shaw or Anthony Douglas. Is this because they are the only practitioners in Cafcass today who one can reliably say that they have regular contact with children and young people in the normal course of their work.

    As opposed to the deliberately misleading response Anthony Douglas gave to the recent M.O.J. Select Committee in relation to questions about direct work with children. I quote from the uncorrected minutes of the House of COMMONS Oral EVIDENCE TAKEN BEFORE the Justice Committee The Operation of the Family Courts Tuesday 22 March 2011
    :“Anthony will answer the question about the staffing levels.

    Anthony Douglas: If I may, because I think several questions refer to that. 91.5% of our staff are front line. 61% are family court advisers, children’s guardians, practitioners in private law cases. 4.5% are family support workers. As Martha said, they do carry out some pretty effective wishes and feelings work with children. Their backgrounds are diverse and they have sometimes 10 or 20 years working with children in different settings and sectors.

    9% of our staff are front-line managers. These are service managers responsible for perhaps 10 to 12 practitioners. When I chaired the London Guardians’ Panel throughout most of the 1990s, we had one panel manager to over 120 guardians. It really is not sustainable to do without front-line management these days, both to keep standards and to support, protect and challenge staff carrying out very difficult work. 17% of our staff are front-line business support staff. They talk to people using our service.

    Q261 Chair: I am afraid I am slightly puzzled by the addition of the words “front line” to each category of staff.
    Anthony Douglas: They are defined by our Secretary of State. Certainly our business support staff, our first line managers as well as practitioners, are defined as front line, and we are following, of course, Cabinet Office guidelines about recruitment at the moment. They are, if you like, officially defined, and they are, front line.
    Q262 Claire Perry: What percentage of your staff actually spend the majority of their time working with children?
    Anthony Douglas: About 65%”.

    Q263 Claire Perry: So 65% are actually what we would think of as front line, as in out there actually blocking and tackling with the children.
    Anthony Douglas: Yes.
    ?
    Anthony Douglas gives deliberately misleading information to Parliament and this isn’t challenged or verified after the fact. It needs to be….. and if Ofsted were concerned they could check the veracity of such claims during inspections and report back to the appropriate authorities. All they say is that:

    “In almost all cases seen by inspectors, the needs of the child or young person were the prime focus for the practice“.

    This judgement is based solely on the reading of case files and cannot possibly tell the whole story but it is still pleasing that commitment to children is recognised and recorded.

    Baroness Howarth says this about Cafcass’ work to the select committee:
    “Baroness Howarth: We are child focused. You have to accept that within our remit the child is always the centre of our work, always the centre of the case, always the centre of concern“.

    Given that this issue of direct involvement with parents and children has become the source of considerable dispute within Cafcass and with some of our partner agencies, one would have thought that testing of Cafcass claims would be implicit in Ofsted’s work.
    So ….no service users were seen, no direct work with children observed, no interaction between a practitioner and a service user observed. Inspectors contact with practitioners limited to the bare minimum. What did inspectors think they were going to get?
    ?
    A methodology of a social work service inspection that doesn’t include observation of practice with children, young people and parents by suitably qualified and experienced inspectors is deeply flawed if not holed below the water line.
    ?
    So it’s judgement time.
    Methodology – Failed – and the written report would also fail the evidence test in law.
    Target Audience and communicability – no idea who this report is aimed at…cannot be service users…can it? – Failed
    Accuracy – contains inaccurate information – Failed
    Value for Money – Anthony Douglas says that each inspection costs Cafcass between 180 to 250K. The inspection report consists of 1074 words some of which are inaccurate and some incomprehensible. 225K divided by 1074 = £232.77 per word. – Failed
    ?
    ?
    In all the material that I read concerning Ofsted and Cafcass the most compelling and concise evidence came from NAPO, the trades union representing Cafcass practitioners, who said to the Education Select Committee on the effectiveness of Ofsted:

    “48. What the purposes of inspection should be (relating not only to schools but to all organizations, settings and services under Ofsted’s remit):

    The purpose of the inspection should be ensuring public services are satisfactory and value for money. Ofsted inspections do not do this. Largely paper based inspections are unlikely to obtain an accurate picture of what is happening.

    In Napo’s view Inspectors need to have much greater understanding of the service they inspect. Inspections that observe practice, and in which Inspectors talk to staff are more likely to produce an accurate picture of what is happening. Any changes necessary would be more likely to succeed if Inspectors met with practitioners and discussed any concerns they have and listened to the practitioner’s comments and explanations.

    49. Too often inspectors judge practitioners’ work by criteria that practitioners were not aware of, and often do not agree are valid. Reports should be a lot more than a series of statements if they are to be credible. They need to include detailed evidence and analysis.

    This much more likely to involve front line staff in a positive manner and make it much more likely that any changes will be effective, and will happen. The current practice of top down pronouncements in blunt and unpleasant terms, concentrating on files rather than talking to people, and little dialogue with practitioners has led to the dysfunctional service described above.

    50. Napo believes Inspections are important and that the current inspection regime deprives organizations of information that could be helpful in making services better.
    53. The consistency and quality of inspection teams in the Ofsted inspection process – This is also covered above. We have set out below two revealing examples of current practice:-

    a.Six practitioner reports were examined using the same criteria by Cafcass managers and Ofsted Inspectors. Cafcass managers graded all six as inadequate, Oftsed Inspectors graded two as inadequate, two as satisfactory and two as good.

    b.Initial Court reports contain some background information, addendum reports do not. Despite this being explained, Inspectors judged all addendum reports to be inadequate because they had no background information.

    Napo believes Ofsted should be radically reformed and broken up into smaller units, so that inspectors and managers at all levels have substantial experience, qualifications and knowledge of the services they are inspecting.
    ?
    A couple of postscripts.
    It was known that Anthony Douglas and Baroness Howarth met with senior Ofsted executives to discuss inspection regimes in 2010.
    One might think that this may have been an attempt for one organisation not fit for purpose to approach another failing organisation and collude to produce and implement a plan which would be mutually favourable to each.

    Given what Anthony has said about inspections….here’s a flavour ….Anthony to the Education Select Committee on the effectiveness of Ofsted:
    ?
    “Q259 Chair: So are you better regulated now than you were in 2006?
    Anthony Douglas: I haven’t noticed a great deal of difference in terms of either the volume or the impact. As Eleanor said, the unannounced inspections are better for two reasons. First, they don’t cost as much. The announced full monty is really an industry, and just too big. But we should all be ready for unannounced inspections. They are not costing much, and I do not personally think they should be confined to poorer-performing organisations, because the best, or the supposed best, can quickly become the worst, and the worst can quickly become the best. The best aren’t as good as they sometimes say they are. The worst aren’t as bad as they sometimes say they are. A random, unannounced, focused inspection, with a sector-led agreed methodology within an outcomes framework, would help us all….(clear as mud Anthony…ed)

    Q260 Chair: So you’re glad that Ofsted took over from what was the Court Service.
    Anthony Douglas: Well, we are where we are.
    Q261 Chair: Is that a yes or a no, Anthony?
    Anthony Douglas: I’m glad that CAFCASS is inspected by a children’s inspectorate and not a court inspectorate.

    Anthony goes on:
    “There are some very woolly peer review systems that are much too cosy and tell you little compared with an independent inspectorate. The methodology has to be agreed, and the people doing it have to be inspector-minded. What Ofsted can do-it is its core business-is training inspectors who can go somewhere and know quickly, over a couple of hours, through looking either at a school or at some social care records, what is going on“.

    So there we are…. Anthony Douglas thinks that by looking at a couple of case records inspectors will know what is going on.
    Then he goes on:

    “Anthony Douglas: I’m not sure grading contributes enormously to improvement. Obviously, if you are criticised, the argument could be made that you are forced to improve, but I think it’s similar to the overstatement of the role of Ofsted. The factors that drive all of us now are much greater transparency, the press and politicians, and Ofsted is one of a number of factors that mean you have to get better all the time. I think that the grading process is sometimes insidious and undermining, and it can breed over-confidence if it’s good, and it can leave you feeling devastated and unable to get to grips with something if it’s too critical.

    I think it is too pejorative, especially the use of words such as “inadequate” or “satisfactory”, because it’s such a broad brush. All of us have to meet basic standards and if you’re not meeting them, having an improvement plan that is inspected properly would get better outcomes“.

    This is hypocrisy of the first water as Cafcass adopted the Ofsted gradings in their so-called supervision system Q4C, (Quality for Children….get it), for use on practitioners. Hence a number of practitioners have had this tag of inadequate hung on them by Cafcass managers and then left out to dry. The perniciousness of having such a label placed on any emotionally intelligent person is damaging to their self esteem….at least Ofsted applied it to a corporate service.

    In my search for evidence to support or refute the above proposition that Cafcass and Ofsted may be working hand in glove, I posed a number of F.O.I. requests to Ofsted including requests for minutes of meetings between Cafcass and Ofsted.

    I was sent a copy of a letter from John Goldup of Ofsted to Anthony Douglas of Cafcass. Apart from Mr Goldup’s maty-ness I hadn’t expected my search to encompass comic possibilities but on reading Mr Goldup’s letter for the umpteenth time I am still reduced to tears…..read it and you’ll see what I mean. If anyone can explain what it means, using the English language I’ll be eternally grateful….meanwhile
    At Cafcass H.Q. Anthony Douglas is triumphant. An Ofsted “good”,…. proof that things are improving in Cafcass.

    Anthony needs to celebrate ….so he clears his timetable and heads for Newcastle. Anthony has contacted the Head of Service and told her that he wants to take a group of selected employees out to a swanky Italian restaurant for dinner as a symbol of his gratitude.

    These selected employees who included only managers and administrators got ready for their big night out but forgot to tell their colleagues ….you know those people who actually do the work…including the self same Family Support Workers who impressed Ofsted enough to mention them by name.

    Anthony likes to think of Cafcass as an “inclusive”, organisation.
    But whilst practitioners were eating coal …..at the ball things were happening. Apparently their soiree was interrupted by those rude men from Real Fathers for Justice which seemed very apt to me….see link.
    http://news.realfathersforjustice.org/index.php?itemid=457

  3. An ex cafcass officer (having also resigned) I find Charles’ experiences very familiar.

  4. I am also a former employee of Cafcass and I am very sorry to hear of Charles’ resignation. I worked in the North East region and met Charles at a number of Cafcass conferences and training events. He came across as a practitioner of the first water, articulate and fiercely intelligent. His loss to Cafcass and to children in the family courts is to be deplored….and to leave under the circumstances of vindictive prosecution by Cafcass managers should be investigated by the DoE. You mention that Cafcass has received some good Ofsted inspections recently…but if they are conducted in the way that Cafcass N1 region was inspected last year they are a sham…read this for an analysis of their inspection….scroll down the page until you come to a posting entitled Anonymous….

    http://regulatorwatch.co.uk/2011/05/page/2/

    PS Steve Hunter isn’t my real name…for obvious reasons that Charles’experiences qualify.

  5. Congratulations to Charles for his integrity.
    It makes me sad that an already difficult job by its very nature (dealing with children at times of family distress and separation) is made more difficult in this way.
    Similar things could also be said of the way Local Government operates in this field.

  6. It seems to me those with any experience of cafcass know it is not fit for purpose. Social workers fathers and mothers have all said the same thing. Why is it those in power do not see that the children are not put first? Is it because they are also not fit for purpose?

  7. Avid readers of Private Eye are already familiar with how the public services generally are deeply hostile to anything which resembles whistle blowing and how they have been depressingly successful at hounding out those who think independently. If you feel bound to act in the sole interests of the “service users”, modern public service is going to be a hostile environment.

  8. Paul Randle-Jolliffe

    I am so pleased to see this on Pinktape, many of the CAFCASS’s modes of working and practices are of the type of trying to force square pegs into round wholes and are not only questionable but in many cases abusive and endemically prejudicial.

    If the officers cannot question the methods and practices what hope have parents got?

    You don’t need to be paranoid to call some of these things stalinist.

    Fit for purpose? What’s the purpose is really the question, is it to identify and assist in resolving issues or is it to fudge things so the decisions fit the prescribed philosophical expectations?

    The CAFCASS boat does not need rocking it needs sinking!

  9. Paul Randle-Jolliffe

    Frankly people like Charles Place should be put in charge, not made to leave!

  10. Austin Whiteside

    Best wishes to Charles. I took the easy way out by simply retiring early, having transferred to Cafcass from its beginning to escape the very same changes and lack of professional autonomy the Probation Service was then subjecting me to.
    I wish I’d had the guts to fight it out – perhaps I did but I could also see the worries that many younger staff had about their own professional development and the risk to their continuing employment were they to join in the necessary strenuous campaign to put children’s interests before management dogma.

  11. I understand that a similar situation exists in parts of the North West. Over the past three years in at least one area for instance nearly every manager has either been moved, suspended and then moved, or retired early.
    Their replacements have little or no working knowledge of the role of the FCA and their accountability to the Courts. They have little or no interest in promoting the autonomy of the practitioner and therefore by definition, the welfare of the child.
    They apparently instead prefer to criticise the number of visits that practitioners make to see children, tell practitioners that they do not need to go to Court hearings, can speak to people on the telephone rather than visit and complain incessantly when the paper files are not up to date.
    As the referrals increase they are allocated against a practitioners name, on some occasions against the names of people who remain on sick leave with little or no adherence to the correct procedures and often without discussion with the practitioner.
    If the practitioner comments/complains about the excessive caseloads, the managers usually tell them that everyone else is managing and their problem is that they are still trying to do the job in ‘the old way’.
    They do not acknowledge the Cornwall Judgement’ from the 1990′s or the recent Re: K July 2011.In reality they probably do not even know what is embodied in these rulings and why.
    I understand that one practitioner in a part of the North West who was coming up to retirement had a period of stress related sick leave and it was recommended by the Occupational Health Department that their case load was reduced.
    However this appears not to have accorded with the overall game plan of the management and he too was suspended three months before retirement on dubious grounds.
    After about a month the suspension was apparently lifted and I believe that he was told to stay at home on full pay until his retirement date.
    Apparently the 25 or so Public Law cases he had had to be reallocated.
    If this is accurate, where is the logic in this. Cafcass seems to be one of the few organisations that do not value the experience of their workforce and they now appear to have management that have systematically set out to rid themselves of the ‘ageing (and more experienced) workforce’ that Anthony Douglas spoke in a disparaging way to the Select Committee about.
    I share the sentiments of the previous commentator and wish Charles all the best for the future. At least he will be able to sleep at night.

  12. SECRETCOURTSAREILLEGAL

    Thank you Charles Place, for standing up for what is right even though it has cost you. You and these other ex Cafcass employees have given me fresh hope for humanity. May God bless all of you for your integrity.

    [edited - abusive]

  13. cafcass is just a waste of time in courts and family law, never know such a aut that effects kids.

  14. I would just like to wish Charles all the very best for the future. I met him through Napo and admire his intellect and commitment to working with children. I have recently retired from CAFCASS and can confer with all that has been said about the poor quality of the organisation and what it has managed to distroy over a relatively short period of time. I will only add one anecdote to the many as it was just before I left that ‘Proportionate working’ was introduced. In itself an illconceived nonsence as it could meean anything but what left my head reeling was that after a submitting a report to court CAFCASS did a ‘file inspection’ and one would be criticised for what ever management felt you should have done or not done! There is so much more.
    Anyway I raise a glass to Charles and the many good practitioners that remain.

  15. Manipulation Of Your Mind by Government Agenda [Brian Gerrish] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PIWR9pGy-3U

    everyone should watch this

    any one who has had or is having problems should contact him and attend this and meet other whistleblowers http://www.ukcolumn.org/events/blowing-whistle-child-stealing-state

    you may also find his articles on children of interest

    http://www.ukcolumn.org/articles/children

  16. Would he be interested in becoming my children’s guardian please? An evil cafcass officer is conniving to take my children and send them off to their child-molesting father! Please help and ask him if he will be interested in assisting my children have their voices heard please?

  17. I wonder if lawyers and judges would do the same and show some integrity, decency and above all, highlight the real problems in family law involving children instead of hiding behind them and profiting? CAFCASS is the biggest waste of public money I’ve ever seen, this feminist organisation is another fundamental problem in the quest for human rights for all, well done Charles Place for exposing at least the minor deficiencies.

  18. Stephen Fremantle

    I too recently ‘retired’ from CAFCASS in Dorset, one of a tranche of four from a small team area. I did not want to retire but got to the point where I was ashamed to take the CAFCASS shilling. Although CAFCASS was born with endemic difficulties, Family Court Advisers / Children’s Guardians were at least able to do their job with integrity until the appointment of Anthony Douglas with his policies of anti-judiciary, pro top heavy authoritarian micro-management and tick box results measurement insidiously undermined our practice. Although I am now happily heading off in the direction of family mediation, I hold a well of residual anger at CAFCASS for destroying a service which I enthusiastically nurtured. The buck stops with Douglas; he should hang his head in shame, or at least follow John Lennon’s example and send back his undeserved gong!

  19. It is clear from reading these posts that those that choose to leave CAFCASS are those it should aim to keep. Unfortunately like all government agencies success is measured now in your ability to tick boxes, create management reports and maintain senior management in their positions.

    Respect you all who standup to these b[edited]s!

  20. The latest news I hear from the Cafcass front is that in some areas assessments and recommendations in discharge applications are being dealt with by telephone.
    How can the practitioner possibly advise the Court that the discharge of a care order is in the childs best ineterests if they haven’t even seen the child, or visited the family home.

  21. [...] Charles Place, left Cafcass last year, his resignation letter is indicative of the issues within: Open letter to CAFCASS : pinktape.co.uk Within cafcass Reading, West Berkshire, there were 17 complaints alone in just 6 months last year, [...]

  22. I’ve seen some very good CAFCASS officers in operation. Good in the sense that they were able to suss out implacable hostility and parental alienation, and make the right recommendations.

    It’s clear, though, that these officers are constrained by a management that is very hostile toward dads and shared parenting (given that facilitating such arrangements usually require a bit more work and imagination).

    The same hateful presumption that all men are abusive permeates CAFCASS management, and it takes a good officer to challenge this and go against management in the (real) interests of the children.

  23. This has been very interesting reading. Well done to all those CAFCASS officers who whistle blew and left the organistion. A very wise woman once told me that people who stand up for what is morally right are rare. So many organisations seems to suck the morals out of the employees to a point where the whole reason for doing a good, professional job is lost. People join companies such as CAFCASS to make changes and improve childrens lives, the people that truly stick to their word are the people that leave.

  24. I have also resigned from Cafcass.

    Have found Charles Place’ Open letter very helpful and insightful due to similar experience. Seems like organisational bullying. Thought there was a law against it.

    Obviously Rose is not my real name for legal reasons.

  25. i’m not employed by CAFCASS but I am on the receiving end of their gross misconduct of justice.

    is there anyone who can help me? i’m desperate. I am currently trying to pursue an appeal at The Royal Court’s of Justice and need as much support and help as I can get.

    Sam

  26. Legal action must be taking against CAFCASS in the human right court as they breach the fundamental human right of the father or the child. Cafcass over rule professionals such as with psychologists or psychiatrist even though Cafcass family court worker has no formal degree or training and experience as other professionals. It is always worth informing Cafcass officer conducting the interview that the interview be recorded since they tend to lie.

    Secret filming of interview is a way to expose Cafcass attitude and behaviours and false reporting.

    • Hi Peter,
      I believe all Cafcass Officers are social work qualified.
      I would not recommend recording interviews, and certainly discourage covert recording of interviews (whether by video or audio).

  27. I cannot generalise, I am a single father but my happy , healthy cjild, one of the best pupil;s of private school was mercilesslu thrown to a endless foster care by cruel, narrow minded and pbviously ineducated Cafcass worker together with a psychologist who is generously paid by [edited] children services. They wre assessed as inadequte by O

  28. sorry, not finished comments.[edited] children services were assessed as inadequate by an Ofsted inspection in January. Name of a psychologist is [edited]. and I do have a legal right to disclose her name, as there is a precedent in a High Court Case.Let me quote from Cafcass worker evidence: I do not mention name of my son in a following quote: [edited]End of quotation

    Me and another victim from Latvia recently complained to a Europarliament . MEP Zdanok suggesetd that our petition will be acceptedon a basis of religious and language discrimination.

    I do not want to generalise and accept that Cafcass could made some good contribution, but in my case [edited],s recommendations to the court became detrimental for my son. His conditions are deteriorating in a foster care. He obviously suffers a significant emotional harm.

    • Thank you Eugene. Whether you have permission to disclose the name of a witness / professional or the contents of evidence is a matter for you – but what I’m afraid you don’t have is my agreement to publish it here. I am unable to verify whether or not the necessary permission to publish is in place – it’s a complicated area of law – and therefore do not permit such information to be published unless there is a published judgment saying so. I am also unable to publish any material which might give rise to other legal difficulties, for example because it might be defamatory. I’m afraid that as far as this blog is concerned I have reserved the right to edit or decline to publish whole comments in order to make sure I fall on the right side of the line.

  29. Hi.
    I’m with Peter. Cafcass HAVE to be recorded and MUST be recorded if you’re having meetings with them. If you’re not at that stage, REFUSE to have any face to face dealings with them and only deal in letters. You’ll them have some proof of what they’ve said and therefore they wont be able to change what they’ve said….which is quite common.
    You have a LAWFUL right to record these lying child abusing scum. They may even write to the court advising them that you are recording conversation and that proceedings may be jeopardised as you may ‘digitally alter’ those records….I have a letter stating that very fact!
    Cafcass’ attitude and behaviours and false reporting NEED EXPOSING. Name and shame those liars and those that contribute to contact blocking.
    CAFCASS: Destroying childrens lives and lying in court since 2001.

  30. Down-but-not-out

    I was recently interviewed by Cafcass Reporter. I told her in advance that I would be recording it and that I would be bringing a witness. I was told it was not appropriate and she could not authorise it. I said I was not going to attend the meeting at her office then. She would have to come to my home where I did not need her permission. She gave in and gave me permission to record the meeting but said that I would have to make a copy for Cafcass, the court and my ex-partner. I refused to do this. It was MY interview, MY recording. She also said my witness would not be allowed to stay throughout the whole of the interview because of confidentiality towards my ex-partner. Once again I said I would not be coming then – it was my OWN personal recording. Eventually, I was allowed a witness throughout the whole meeting. She said she had consulted her legal team who said I was right about being allowed to record and have a witness. So…..stick to your guns and INSIST on your rights. And don’t worry – they cannot make things up about you because you insisted – you have everything recorded!! And what a lot I got…..she never stopped talking and I barely said a word – I couldn’t get one in edgeways! Just quote DPA Sections 35 & 36. Hope this helps.

  31. A lie by a Cafcass officer resulted in me losing my child. It was a leave to remove case. When I say it was a lie, I really mean that. He lied, deliberately.

    A parent loses a child.

    Isn’t that barbaric.

  32. I wish I knew all this when I was going through court proceedings and had involvement with CAFCASS. My CAFCASS officer contradicted herself from one report to the next to suit what she wanted to happen of the outcome, in the end it was to have my daughter adopted.

    I want to put a complaint in about this worker. Any suggestions?

  33. As a former member of Cafcass staff, I can say from my own experience that the majority of frontline staff are honest people with a sense of ethics and moral behaviour and a deep desire to achieve the best outcomes that can be achieved in the circumstances of each family.

    However the good ones are under the cosh of a ruthless,callous and cruel management. Many have left the service, taken early retirement or have been bounced out by strongarm tactics if they are not compliant with the prevailing culture.

    Much younger and inexperienced social workers have taken their place and are more malleable than the veterans. So in many cases it is managers who make all the important decisions in individual cases, and these are taken in confidential supervision sessions where the manager writes up the account….and surprise, surprise they do not incriminate themselves.

    Sir Nicholas Wall’s words in A County Council v
    K & Ors (By the Child’s Guardian HT) [2011] EWHC 1672 (Fam)have been deliberately undermined by Cafcass’ internal procedures and a recent FOI question reveals that since that landmark judgement only one case has been returned to court to resolve a casework dispute between a practitioner and manager.

    Cafcass would spin this as a success indicating that practitioners and managers work in harmony….but nothing could be further from the truth….as the truth is strangled and manipulated by senior managers and the executive of Cafcass.

    The words “ravel” and “unravel” mean the same thing in the English language and perhaps will come into play in the near future as regards Cafcass’ failings.

  34. The sad thing is that a lot of seriously damaged individuals choose these professions (law, social work, etc), and they have an axe to grind. Though I take Ian’s point; management usually equals scum in any context.

  35. Anyone who works for CAFCASS, I’ll leave it to your imagination what type of people they are. A very odd job and career, what with all the corruption.

    • I agree I believe the Caff Cass make false allegations and make up more then what has been said
      It is disgusting and they want to be ashamed of them selves in event anything happening to my 2 boys I will be going to every television programme and news paper walking until I get justice after leaving them in emotional and physical danger
      Waste of money they are paying for these made up people

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