CAFCASS: Coronavirus

Ministry of Justice written question – answered at on 23 November 2020.

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Photo of Alex Chalk Alex Chalk Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

As an essential public service, Cafcass continues to work hard to maintain its service to children and families during very challenging circumstances. This is a tribute to its leadership and staff at all levels.

At the beginning of the first national lockdown, Cafcass closed all its offices to the public and conducted its work with children, families and the family courts remotely and continued as far as possible to file welfare reports, attend remote hearings and progress cases accordingly. In the summer, Cafcass published protocols setting out how and when its staff attend court in person and on the use of remote video technology and in-person visits to speak with children in their home, in outside spaces such as parks, or at a re-opened Cafcass office from late July.

On 17 November Cafcass published new guidance setting out its approach to working with children and families during the ongoing Covid 19 pandemic. It is Cafcass’ priority to see children and families in person when it is in their best interest to do so, and this will depend on the particular circumstances in each case. From the end of November all Cafcass offices and touchdown locations will be open to provide Covid-secure places to work and to meet children and families while keeping safe. Cafcass will continue to review and ensure that all these measures are in accordance with government and public health guidance.

In terms of the impact of remote hearings on Cafcass, research by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory published in October shows that most professionals, including Cafcass staff, feel that overall the courts are now working more effectively and that there are even some benefits from remote working. However, the report also highlights some areas of concern that need to be addressed. There are clearly circumstances where more support is required to enable parents and young people to take part in remote hearings effectively, and this is under consideration by the senior family judiciary.

Cafcass continues to experience high levels of demand for its services while managing a rise in the number of open cases due to a reduction in case disposals. The Ministry of Justice has allocated an additional £3.4m this year to help Cafcass meet these challenges. Cafcass has put in place a protocol to enable it, where necessary, to prioritise cases in local service areas so that it can continue to meet the needs of the most vulnerable children and families.

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