By Cafcass Chief Executive Anthony Douglas.
Welcome to my first blog. I’ll be blogging each month, sharing news from Cafcass and talking about the family justice system at large.
The end of 2012 is nigh and we’ve taken on even more cases this year than before. Better expressed, we’ve helped even more children and young people. The most stunning achievement is that with our partner agencies in the family justice system, we have brought the average time to conclude a case down from 56 weeks last year to 47 weeks now, with further reductions expected. We live in unpredictable times and few would have predicted that such progress was possible so quickly. It shows what a determined bunch of like-minded people can do.
This improvement has been made before the legislation designed to make this happen has been introduced, though reducing delays further still, especially in the toughest parts of the country, won’t be easy. Not only have we challenged the culture of delay, which the Chair of the Family Justice Board, David Norgrove, has called for, we have also substituted for it a culture of urgency. We have all become more aware of what asking for a week, or two weeks, or six weeks more in case will mean for a child. We have, without realising or calling it anything special, built a stronger “team around the child” model in the family court process.
As Ernest Ryder said recently at a Cafcass event, “this is the age of the social worker”. A time like this is a great opportunity for social workers to show and develop their expertise in family court social work and in so doing, reduce the need for court-appointed experts. Cafcass and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) are developing a detailed model of family court social work, which will set out the specialist areas social workers operating in the family court will be expected to address. Areas of family court social work practice such as a definitive analysis of parental capacity to change, the evidence-base for possible safe re-unification, and inquisitorial social work (to support inquisitorial judging) will be worked up in detail before being launched as part of a broader set of materials, including those which are being developed by the judiciary, to support the family justice reforms.
System change such as this is refreshing and positive, but it is only as good as the outcomes for the children themselves, especially that majority who spend time in the care system. And here we have further challenges. For example, the gap between children needing adoption and adopters waiting to be matched is wide – over 2,000 children in England legally freed for adoption are still waiting to be placed. The child’s journey through care means that faster responses and faster therapeutic care have to be available at every stage: pre-proceedings, during the court process and post proceedings. Family justice reforms are just one part of children in care reforms – they are an important part, but not the whole story. The work we have been doing is just the first chapter.