Written evidence submitted by NAPO, the
Trade Union and Professional Association for Family Court and
Probation Staff (CAF 40)
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
Comments made in the rest of this submission
relate to the six key objectives which were initially set for
9. TO REPRESENT,
(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
(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
(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
(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.
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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
(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.
(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.
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.
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.
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
(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
(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
(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
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.
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.