#NQ7: Family Court Focus – workloads in Cafcass

I have been hearing an increasing amount of feedback from colleagues around the country regarding increasing workloads and working increasingly long hours. Below are just a few examples:

“I’ve been trying to push feelings of inadequacy to one side.  Two safeguarding letters a day is just not feasible in my view. This can be on top of an office duty day in which the demands of screening take up hours of practitioner’s time.”

“For me, managing means logging on before 9am and I never log off at 5pm. When I’ve been unable to log on early, I really notice how much I’ve come to rely on those extra hours to manage my workload.”

“Management response was along the lines of: it’s a hazard of the social worker profession, whatever field you’re in that we put in extra hours”.

“People are feeling increasingly isolated with all the working from home that we do. Team meetings are the few occasions we all get to see each other and should be encouraged.” (Increasingly staff are phoning in to team meetings rather than attending in person, particularly when teams cover a large geographical area)

“In relation to overwork it links with the lack of job satisfaction as we are working extra hours to keep up with a system that seems increasingly distant from the children we are meant to protect, as other services also shrink to fit austerity.” 

“I’m fed up with working most evenings and every weekend just to try and keep on top of things. I don’t feel this is sustainable long term. Sitting in front of this computer for hours on end isn’t good for my physical or mental wellbeing.”

“I feel particularly bad that, when service users aren’t available for scheduled phone interviews, I don’t have space at the moment to offer an alternative which means, unless it’s for my court duty, you, my colleagues, have to do safeguarding interviews as court duty officers so I apologise but I just don’t have any other options.”

“I’m feeling the pressure too added to which lots of changes. I feel increasingly isolated because I rarely see anyone from dawn to dusk although I’m on the phone all day.”

“I would like to be able to have an away day. Even half a day that was just about us all coming together having  a chat about practice, etc; without there necessarily being any agenda set for learning.”

“I don’t know what others think but I am also finding that the cases are increasingly complex with lots of child protection concerns and when cases are like that they usually take a lot longer than half a day to finish all the enquires.”

“How can we get to ‘outstanding’ in these circumstances?”

“I have been questioning my ability to do this job over the past couple of months. I felt that I was not coping and that this is my problem.  It is has been very reassuring to know that it is not just me. I feel as though this job has taken over my life over the past few months.”

“Certainly those that I have spoken to, both locally and further afield have talked about feeling overwhelmed and I certainly do. What gets to me is the knowledge that we could offer a better quality service if we had the time but we don’t have it and are constantly criticised in quality audits. I seem to have been playing catch-up and cannot see a time in the near future when this can be resolved unless I work over my contracted hours.”

“We are all working over our hours. I don’t know how I would cope if I was full time”.

“I am having very similar discussions with colleagues.  One last week showed me how she, as a full time FCA, had 24 cases open and active and six reports to file within the next two weeks and was in low amber. All cases had future hearing dates so the management system was as up to date as possible. How could that be a low amber workload?”  

The comments above have all been made very recently. However, they are very similar to the 100+ comments made on the survey we did last year on working hours and TOIL.

Cafcass are aware that there is a problem with meeting demand and it is fair to say that they are doing their best to recruit. Dean Rogers, assistant general secretary, and I recently met with Anthony Douglas (Cafcass CEO) to discuss a document (Changes in use of professional time to bring most benefit to children within the resources available) which had been circulated to the judiciary in an effort to reduce some unnecessary work for practitioners. Sadly, I am not optimistic that much will be achieved. It is somewhat unfortunate that we were not consulted prior to circulation as we may have been able to contribute usefully.

Staff need to take their diaries with their case plans to their managers to show what they are doing, how long tasks are taking and what the difficulties are. The bottom line I guess is that staff will feel afraid to put their head up and suggest they have too much work fearing further negative attention to themselves.  The workload measurement needs serious attention and there is no sign that this will happen very soon.

Staff can also use the stress risk assessment process but again I expect staff very much fear drawing attention to themselves. The high level of auditing can also add to high stress levels for practitioners.

As a Cafcass family court adviser, being aware that this situation applies to workers right across the public sector does not help. There are increasing reports of workload stress, depression, failure to meet targets and inability to recruit and retain staff in vital organisations such as the NHS, the fire service, police forces, the teaching profession and prisons and probation. This simply adds to the worry. The 1% pay cap is the “icing on the cake for us all.”

The very real concern is that the high level of service that the children and families we work with should receive will become compromised if staff are overworked, tired and stressed.

Working flexibly from home, while welcomed in some respects, can increase the likelihood of staff working long hours.

The expectation that TOIL can be anticipated and requested in advance is unrealistic. Who knows in advance which office duties will take up all day and prevent one’s own work from being completed?

Some months ago at a partnership meeting, management agreed to look at the separate Cafcass policy and procedures on TOIL, overtime and working flexibly, due to the confusion which we pointed out.

The Cafcass Negotiating Committee will take up this issue further and updating feedback will follow. Napo is currently running a workloads campaign and the Family Court Section of Napo will be included in this.

Jay Barlow
National Vice-Chair, Family Court Section


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