Select Committee on Lord Chancellor's Department Written Evidence


Written evidence submitted by NAPO, the Trade Union and Professional Association for Family Court and Probation Staff (CAF 40)

1.  INTRODUCTION

  NAPO welcomes the opportunity to submit evidence to the inquiry into the work of CAFCASS. NAPO represents over 560 practitioners and managers in CAFCASS. The Union has been involved in negotiations with CAFCASS on a range of issues including terms and conditions since the project team was established in 1999.

2.  RECENT HISTORY

  NAPO believes that the early months of CAFCASS were characterised by structural and practical problems. These difficulties, in NAPO's view, defined the future development of the organisation and are responsible for many of the difficulties that CAFCASS currently faces. The Green Paper, which recommended the establishment of CAFCASS estimated that it would take three to five years to establish the new organisation. However, the need of the Home Secretary to set up a national Probation Service quickly, reduced that timescale to two years. (Family Court work had previously been the responsibility of the Probation Service.) It was evident to practitioners at the outset that the timetable was overly ambitious.

3.  PROJECT TEAM

  A project team led by Civil Servants was established in 1999 to oversee the setting up of CAFCASS and to establish its management board. In NAPO's view, there was a serious lack of clarity about the scope of the project team. They identified that there were a wide variety of fees paid to self-employed practitioners and salaries to employed staff and an apparent lack of control of expenditure. As a consequence, the team began to discuss this with representatives of self-employed guardians, but did not address the major discrepancies in the salaries and terms of employed staff. The project team subsequently concluded that they could not resolve issues such as fees and left the matter to be taken forward by the CAFCASS Board at its very outset. At the beginning, therefore, the Board was faced with conflict.

4.  LEGISLATION

  The Bill to establish CAFCASS and the National Probation Service was published on the 15/03/00. Royal assent was granted the following autumn. For the next few months no one was in post to take key decisions. The Chief Executive, for example, did not take up post until Vesting Day. The Chair was appointed during January 2001. In NAPO's view the project team left the Board with a wholly inadequate management structure at both head quarter and regional level. First line managers found themselves without support services such as property management. The absence of a Health & Safety structure meant that for many months, a Lord Chancellor's Department function was arguably, operating unlawfully.

5.  DEVELOPMENTS

  The Human Resources Directorate was not appointed until June 2001 and as a consequence there were severe delays in establishing a strategy for recruitment. There were no reference points for problems, regional managers had no support staff and there were few ideas for staff training, welfare or retention.

6.  BUDGETS

  There were, in NAPO's view, major budget shortfalls from the beginning. The shortfall was thought to be in the region of seven million pounds by August 2001. As a consequence, some staff found themselves without offices or resorted to desk sharing. The deficit may, in part, have been caused by inadequate financial information from the constituent bodies that formed CAFCASS. The Court Welfare Service in some areas may, for example, have been under-funded during the two-year period prior to the establishment of CAFCASS.

7.  VESTING DAY

  The situation on Vesting Day and for the following twelve months was characterised by an inadequate infrastructure and a disproportionate amount of senior management and employer attention spent on internal disputes. The strain on first line managers beset with additional responsibilities and reduced resources was huge. In NAPO's view, however, service delivery to the public remained intact despite the problems and low morale.

8.  SIX KEY OBJECTIVES

  Comments made in the rest of this submission relate to the six key objectives which were initially set for CAFCASS.

9.  TO REPRESENT, SAFEGUARD AND PROMOTE THE WELFARE OF CHILDREN INVOLVED IN FAMILY COURT PROCEEDINGS

  (a)  NAPO continues to support the concept of a unified service for children in Family Court and Care Proceedings. An integrated service should be able to promote the welfare of children, through a cross-fertilisation of practice, through the development of expertise, because cases straddle both public and private law and through economies of scale.

  (b)  There are, however, a number of factors, which in NAPO's view are inhibiting good progress.

  First, there is little evidence, yet, of CAFCASS taking a public role and promoting the welfare of children. In part this is because of the fragmented nature of the organisation.

  Secondly, CAFCASS has not yet implemented its own child protection procedures. These should be developed as a matter of priority.

  Thirdly, there is a staff shortage. This has been caused by resignation, retirements, the lack of a Personnel Department and an increase in the volume of work and its complexity. It is of great concern that as of 31/12/02 there were nearly 2,000 cases that had not been allocated. They comprised 1,254 private law cases and a further 609 in public law. In addition, in some regions it is taking longer to complete private law investigations. In the South West, for example, staff report that it is taking 18 weeks to complete reports, in the West Midlands it is 14 weeks and in some parts of the North West it is 16 weeks. The expectation is that reports and investigations will be completed in 12 weeks.

10.  TO IMPROVE THE SERVICES OFFERED TO THE FAMILY COURTS

  (a)  NAPO believes that practitioners have strived to maintain the overall quality of the service to the Courts since the inception of CAFCASS in April 2001. Courts still hold staff in high esteem and value the quality of reports. NAPO regrets any delay in submitting a report to the courts and believes that stockpiles are not in anyone's interest.

  NAPO welcomed an announcement last summer from CAFCASS that it intended to create a "bank of staff" to deal with the unallocated work. There has, however, been a delay in translating that plan into action. Advertisements for new staff have now been placed. CAFCASS must now ensure that any new recruits are adequately trained, managed, that they receive proper induction, that police checks are carried out efficiently and quickly and that there is ongoing support.

  CAFCASS also needs to recruit and support more managers. Existing managers in NAPO have complained of too much responsibility, too little support and of the difficulty of trying to manage self employed staff with no history of being managed.

  (b)  NAPO believes that services to courts could be improved in a number of ways:

    —  CAFCASS needs to develop its ability to manage staff effectively.

    —  CAFCASS needs to be assertive with judges to ensure effective use of resources, particularly the appropriateness of individual referrals.

    —  CAFCASS needs to be seen to be publicly accountable in the effective deployment of its resources.

    —  CAFCASS should ensure that staff have manageable workloads.

11.  TO IMPROVE THE EFFICIENCY AND EFFECTIVENESS OF THE SERVICES OFFERED THROUGH INCREASED VALUE FOR MONEY

  (a)  NAPO believes that one of the greatest potential benefits for CAFCASS should be through economies of scale. However, these have not yet been delivered.

  There are a number of aggravating factors and they include:—The organisation is not fully integrated, there has not been the expected convergence of practice and CAFCASS is based on large geographical areas, which involve expensive and long haul travel for practitioners, managers and families.

  (b)  CAFCASS has experienced a series of problems with Information Technology (IT). A parliamentary answer dated 27/02/03 reveals that "In the year preceding CAFCASS's launch a total of £10.2 Million was spent on setup costs of the new organisation…. Over £5 million of this total, ie 50% , was spent on the IT service within the organisation".

  It is, however, unclear what exactly has been spent on IT since the launch as accounts have not been made available to staff. The £5 million, which went to C.S.L, was to supply terminals on desks. In effect, staff were given an office system to enable word processing and the receiving and sending of e-mails. However, there is no case management database. NAPO is deeply concerned that no integrated database is in place and believe that one of the reasons why CAFCASS has ended up with little more than a basic office system is that decisions about IT since the creation of CAFCASS have been made without user or trade union involvement. A second parliamentary answer on 03/03/03 admits "The databases inherited by CAFCASS by its predecessors will no longer be required when CAFCASS has alternative service-wide systems in place".

  CAFCASS consequently now faces going into its third year with a wide range of IT shortcomings. In NAPO's view, some of these are:—

    —  CAFCASS has no plan to computerise the case records of children.They may well be reliant on a paper system until after 2005.

    —  CAFCASS has no clear plans or budget for a new computerised client record index that would allow the accurate measure of workloads and performance targets.

    —  CAFCASS has no information strategy that would explain how it would be "e" ready by the deadlines set by the "Modernising Government" agenda.

    —  CAFCASS has no strategy to show how electronic data will be kept.

    —  CAFCASS has not integrated its systems which means that any CAFCASS practitioner may have to record information on six or more unrelated and ad hoc systems. A new electronic finance system is being brought online in April 2003 but most of the trade unions have been excluded from the development work.

  NAPO believes that it is imperative that CAFCASS introduces an integrated IT system, which represents value for money without any further delay.

  (c)  NAPO does welcome the extension of the contract for the current Chief Executive. The initial appointment was made in December 2001 and it did lead to greater stability and increased liaison with the Lord Chancellor's Department. It also led to the development of the harmonisation of pay and conditions of the different practitioner groups within the organisation.

NAPO also believes that value for money will be enhanced by a move from an administered to a managed service with continued examination of the deployment of staff time. This development would benefit from further investment in frontline management.

12.  TO IMPROVE THE SERVICES OFFERED TO FAMILIES AND OTHER KEY STAKEHOLDERS

  (a)  In January 2003, NAPO published a study of 300 recently completed private law cases. The study involved 60 practitioners completing an anonymised questionnaire on the five most recently completed cases. The study found that there was a need for a range of additional child centred facilities.

  In all, 39 of the 60 questionnaire respondents believed additional child centre facilities would have assisted their work. A range of interventions would have been of considerable assistance in 75 of the 300 individual cases.
Additional Facilities No.
Supervised Contact Centre29
Family Therapy16
Child Counselling10
Parenting Classes  6
Other14
Total75



  Nearly 10% of the cases studied would have benefited from the presence of supervised contact centres. Several staff reported that facilities were unavailable for older children and that the need for supervised contact was a critical issue. 16 respondents felt family therapy would have been of great value to their work and 10 felt that child counsellors were essential. A further six respondents felt that parenting classes would have been an asset. Other facilities, which staff believed, were needed included:— Breath testing, extra support workers for the children, anger management classes, greater Social Services Department involvement, intermediaries between the parties, better Mental Health Service cooperation, more staff from all ethnic groups and interpreter facilities.

  (b)  The study also found that it was sometimes difficult to access data from other agencies. Whilst the vast majority of the respondents were able to access data fairly quickly and easily, there were 74 instances where difficulties were experienced with one of more of the key departments.

THE COMPLAINTS

  (i)  Criminal Records

  Eleven staff had problems accessing criminal records from the police. The complaints included:— that data was slow to arrive, that it was inaccurate and often not available, that it had been hard to access since February 2002 when police systems changed and that police were reluctant to pass on information unless child protection was involved.

  (ii)  Domestic Violence

  Fourteen staff experienced problems with police domestic violence units. The complaints included:— that callouts to domestic incidents had not been recorded by the police, that calls for information were not returned, that the unit wanted the written consent of the parties before information was given, that records were deleted after three years and that it was hard to access information unless a court conviction was made.

  (iii)  Probation

  Eighteen practitioners expressed problems with the Probation service. The principal complain was that the formal link had been lost when family court work was detached from the service on the 1st April 2001. CAFCASS staff now felt that the checks were very cursory or not very helpful, that details were only released when there was a child protection issue, that written permission of the parties had to be provided before releasing data, that the release of data may have contravened the Data Protection and Human Rights Act and that access was withheld because protocols had not been negotiated.

  (iv)  Health

  Sixteen staff raised concerns about access to Department of Health records. The problems principally concerned confidentiality of material and the Human Rights Act. The specific complaints included:— psychiatric assessments not passed on, information not being sent through the post, that the mental health authorities did not take into account children in their reviews and that GPs had asked for payment for information.

  (v)  Social Services

  Nine staff listed problems with Social Services. The concerns included a refusal to express an opinion, refusal to send records, which lead to a three month adjournment, allegations of child abuse not recorded and a refusal to supervise contact.

  (vi)  Education

  Just five expressed problems with the education authority. Those complaints included:— a reluctance to share information, difficulty in accessing records because of frequent school moves and a shortage of staff to do the checks.

  NAPO believes that these difficulties with other agencies underline a need for national protocols to be developed. There is also a clear need for CAFCASS to try and argue for more resources for more Child Contact Centres.

  (c)  In the last five years, tragically, a number of children have died whilst awaiting the appointment of a guardian or Family Court Adviser or whilst the subject of proceedings. NAPO would support any plans to ensure that there was a detailed independent investigation following any child death where proceedings were in force or pending. NAPO would also support plans to give allegations of domestic violence a higher profile of Court Application forms.

  (d)  A minority of CAFCASS staff still occupy premises with the Probation Service. Instances are still reported to NAPO of CAFCASS clients sharing waiting areas within individuals on Criminal Court Orders. NAPO has also been told that staff use ad hoc meeting facilities such as court rooms because of an overall shortage of accommodation or because of the distance between CAFCASS premises. There is, for example, just one private law office in both Essex and Hertfordshire.

  (e)  The CAFCASS workforce is not representative of the society it serves. Staff are predominantly white with 70% over 40 years of age. In the highly charged arena of family disputes and the role of the State, the need for diversity to be built into the agency is critical so that the public can be assured that the needs of all involved are positively understood and addressed. In NAPO's view, CAFCASS have been slow to develop a multicultural service. Diversity has not been tackled beyond the planning stage. The strategy should eventually involve:— training, recruitment and retention of diverse staff, translation and interpretation facilities, support for voluntary organisations working with ethnic groups and realistic targets.

13.  TO DEVELOP THE SKILLS OF STAFF

  (a)  NAPO is disappointed at the continued absence of a national training strategy. In-service training on the ground is ad hoc. CAFCASS has made provision for attendance at conferences and short courses but little internally. There is no IT training. There is no systematic induction programme for new staff. There is no systematic training to allow private practitioners to take on public work and vice versa.

  Prior to CAFCASS there were structured training opportunities and expectations including induction, traineeships and post qualification training.

  (b)  NAPO welcomes the recent promise from CAFCASS of modular course training, but this does need to be activated. Staff time must be created to allow them to participate. Training must not been seen as an addition to the existing workload. Modular courses might contain:— mediation for public law practitioners, handling conflict, adoption law for private practitioners, IT for everyone, risk assessment, student supervision and convergence training.

  (c)  Recruitment to CAFCASS is currently aimed at Social Services staff or others with relevant qualifications and experience. This policy is worrying because it dilutes Social Services Departments of Child Protection staff whose function includes attempts to stop conflict deteriorating into care proceedings. CAFCASS does not have its own recruitment and trainees programme. At present, an individual candidate needs a minimum of three years post Social Work qualification experience before being offered a post. In NAPO's view, consideration ought to be given to the feasibility of a CAFCASS apprenticeship scheme, which would have the additional bonus of assisting with the diversity agenda. CAFCASS should also consider increased provision of student placements from those on Diploma in Social Work programmes.

14.  TO PLAY A FULL ROLE IN DELIVERING THE WIDER GOVERNMENT AGENDA FOR IMPROVEMENTS IN SERVICE

  NAPO supports the aspiration of CAFCASS to be the vehicle which allows the voice of children disadvantaged by family circumstances to be heard in government circles and therefore reflected in policy. There is a role for CAFCASS as an adviser to government when the needs of children are being discussed. It could develop a similar role to that of the Commission for Racial Equality, which it is involved in individual casework and acts as a policy adviser to government on diversity. As yet, however, all energy within CAFCASS has been devoted to the provision of services and dealing with consequences of departmental decisions not influencing them. NAPO recognises that there are clear resource implications if CAFCASS is to develop a policy role. This process might be assisted if the Lord Chancellor's Department can clarify what is meant by the word "support" in the CAFCASS long title.

15.  CONCLUSION

  CAFCASS has survived during the last two years by using the skills and goodwill of its staff. The period has been characterised by sound management intentions, which have not always been implemented in the workplace. For the future, CAFCASS urgently needs to develop a training strategy for existing staff and new recruits. It needs to examine the feasibility of a trainee or apprenticeship programme. CAFCASS needs to develop, in conjunction with staff, an IT database for case management. CAFCASS needs to take urgent steps to reduce unallocated cases. The organisation needs to develop a workload measure for practitioners and managers. CAFCASS needs to develop its Human Resources policies in order to retain and attract qualified workers. CAFCASS needs to implement family-friendly policies, which would have the effect of encouraging a diverse workplace.

NAPO

March 2003


 
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