Cafcass

Ministry of Justice written question – answered on 11th January 2021.

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Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Attorney General)

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, with reference to the decision by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) of 23 November 2020 to allocate only the highest priority work in South Yorkshire and the Humber, what steps he is taking to help avoid the necessity for Cafcass to trigger that prioritisation protocol elsewhere.

Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Attorney General)

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, with reference to the decision by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) of 23 November 2020 to allocate only the highest priority work in South Yorkshire and the Humber, what estimate he has made of the additional financial resources necessary to (a) stabilise Cafcass in South Yorkshire and the Humber and (b) avoid the necessity for Cafcass to trigger that prioritisation protocol elsewhere.

Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Attorney General)

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, with reference to the decision by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) of 23 November 2020 to allocate only the highest priority work in South Yorkshire and Humber, what impact assessment his Department has carried out on the effect of the prioritisation protocol on children and families in (a) South Yorkshire and Humber and (b) other regions.

Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Attorney General)

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, with reference to the decision by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) of 23 November 2020 to allocate only the highest priority work in South Yorkshire and Humber, what steps his Department is taking to (a) improve the effectiveness of Cafcass and (b) increase Cafcass staff retention.

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

The Ministry of Justice has been working closely with Cafcass on mitigating the additional pressures on its services from the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. Decisions on Cafcass funding are made at a national level. Following discussions with Cafcass, the Ministry of Justice agreed £3.4m in additional funding this year to enable it to increase staff capacity at pace to help meet the challenge of a rising open caseload. It is for Cafcass to make operational decisions about how best to deploy resources across its Service Areas, including allocating work between them to alleviate pressures and reduce the risk of triggering the prioritisation protocol.

Since the protocol was triggered in South Yorkshire and Humberside, significant joint agency work has been undertaken by Cafcass, the judiciary, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) and other partners such as local authorities. This work has reviewed the root causes for triggering prioritisation in South Yorkshire and Humberside and has included data analysis and reviews of individual case files. The triggering of the protocol in South Yorkshire and Humberside remains under review.

Cafcass has taken measures to manage the impact on children and families of prioritising cases in this Service Area. Cases with a delayed allocation for further Cafcass work will be those where another safeguarding agency is involved or where no safeguarding risks have been identified. The parties will be sent a letter to let them know if Cafcass has been unable to allocate their case and to explain that they will be notified when it has been allocated to a Family Court Adviser. Children will be sent a letter that is age appropriate and explains why their case has been delayed and signposts them to alternative services they can use. The telephone number of a Cafcass Service Manager is given, and they can speak to parents or children if they have concerns about their unallocated case. Delays will be kept to a minimum where possible. All unallocated work will remain under review by a Cafcass Service Manager and reviewed regularly by the Assistant Director in the area and on a weekly basis by a multi-agency group which includes members of the judiciary and HMCTS. A material change to the circumstance of the family could, if appropriate, prompt a change to the priority of the case.

Cafcass continues to work to attract, recruit and retain social workers into the posts created by the additional £3.4m resource. It is continually reviewing and developing options to help retain its highly trained workforce during this challenging time. In South Yorkshire and Humberside Cafcass has recruited a number of agency and permanent Family Court Advisers which has addressed some of the issues present at the point the protocol was triggered.

Ministry of Justice officials hold regular meetings with Cafcass for assurance that its resources are being used as effectively as possible. We are aware of the pressures that Cafcass staff are facing due to unprecedented levels of demand. The importance of being able to recruit and retain appropriately qualified staff is being considered during the approval of Cafcass’ pay remit for this financial year.

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