The increasing number of child care cases coming before courts is reaching breaking point and the current system is unsustainable. This alarming view has been publically stated by those directly responsible for the service – Cafcass chief, Sir Anthony Douglas – and echoed strongly by the president of the family division, Sir James Munby.
The scale of the increase is startling. The number of cases per year has risen to 12781 and is still rising. The number of new cases between April and August 2016 was up 23% on the same period in 2015 and only 22 less than the whole of 2007-8.
This is putting enormous strain on the quality of provision. Douglas and Munby are both quick to praise staff for their efforts, but fear there are no more safe efficiencies left to find.
Napo’s recent FCS TOIL survey highlighted how far members are already going beyond what is reasonable and how close to breaking point the service is. Staff are working an average nine extra hours a week for free, taking them to the limit of the legal maximum in the European Working Time Directive. Many are working well beyond this safe limit,
with six day working common due to contact meetings being scheduled for weekends.
Excessive hours are being culturally entrenched in Cafcass. Half of responders report not recording additional hours and/or not knowing how much TOIL they are owed. Over 25% said they did not know there still was a TOIL policy. The most common stated reasons for
working additional hours were needing to complete court reports on time; high cases loads in red, including being allocated cases when on leave; and increased administration. Part-time staff talked of “volunteering” on their day off to keep up.
The good news is that those who have ultimate responsibility for the service are not hiding from the problem. This refreshing honesty means Napo, as the professional association for family court advisors can work alongside Cafcass and others to look for solutions to this crisis. This will not be easy as the causes are complex – the increase in cases dating
to the Baby Peter case – are not all in the employers’ gift. Lobbying the new ministerial team is already under way for additional resources for staffing and we are inviting stakeholders to debate organisational and professional options, including through the Napo Family Court Journal.
Assistant General Secretary