As true today as it ever was…
CAFCASS has been a disaster from Day One. Its officers write tens of thousands of trivial reports each year – on decent families caught up in divorce. CAFCASS breeds heartache and delay. CAFCASS clogs up the system. It’s the bottleneck in the divorce system wasting hundreds of millions of pounds a year.
Theresa May, former Shadow Secretary of State for the Family (May, 2004)
In 2005 Anthony Douglas, Cafcass CEO, announced that children as young as 7 should be encouraged to decide which parent they wanted to live with (Frean, 2005). Parenting groups described the comment as ‘a gross abdication of responsibility’ by Cafcass.
So how did Cafcass come into existence?
The road is long and filled with various stories of how Cafcass came to be. The best and closest to the truth explanation we’ve seen so far is this one by the blogger at ExInjuria:
On 18th May 1995, contrary to the advice of his lawyers, a disenfranchised father lodged an official complaint about an FWCS welfare report. For a year the FWCS prevaricated until the complaint reached a secret tribunal which finally sent him a letter on 16th July 1996 stating that it hadn’t read his file, refused to obtain it and rejected his complaint (Cyriax, 1999).
In November the Chief Probation Officer wrote to the father’s MP falsely claiming the file had indeed been read and he was subsequently disciplined for lying. This fact, too, was then denied. It emerged that when checking the quality of welfare reports the FWCS excluded both the substance and the subject of the report. It was revealed also that the FWCS provided its staff with no training in any aspect of their work and provided no guidelines; it possessed no research and conducted none; it didn’t know what its officials recommended, or what the outcome of those recommendations were; it had never progressed beyond the trite adage, ‘all cases are different’. It had no research on what constituted a suitable or reasonable contact arrangement, the minimum level of contact, or at what age a child should start overnight contact. It was, however, prepared to lie to Parliament and to maintain a conspiracy of silence to prevent its deficiencies coming to light.
A scandal brewed; parents across Britain lodged hundreds of complaints; frustrated by the FCWS they then complained to their MPs. Who forwarded the complaints to the Home Office. Which denied responsibility. This fact was forwarded to the Lord Chancellor’s Department which denied responsibility for the Home Office. In the case of Re A the Court of Appeal confirmed a litigant had no right to examine or cross-examine an officer of the FWCS (Re A (A Minor), 1998). The parent body of the FWCS, the Probation Service itself, was now at risk. In 1998 the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, decided to separate the two before further damage could be done, a measure which was kept from the press. After three more years of destructive limbo the Welfare Service was effectively renamed
CAFCASS was set up due primarily to political expediency, and the necessity to sever lines of responsibility and accountability.
Many of the FWCS’s entirely untrained staff were transferred directly without additional training. Little changed beyond the name.
CAFCASS was rushed into existence to coincide with the launch of a new National Probation Service and cobbled together from no fewer than 117 pre-existing, locally administered agencies; it subsumed the roles of the Guardian ad Litem and Reporting Officer (GALRO) Service, which had mostly been administered by local authorities, and the Children’s Division of the Official Solicitor.
The haste with which CAFCASS was established was, according to a House of Commons report, ‘a serious misjudgement’;
HMICA Inspection and Report into Cafcass
Prior to Ofsted Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Court Administration were responsible for inspecting and reporting on Cafcass ability and capacity to fulfil its role and responsibilities. HMICA’s report for 2005/2006 can be summed up as follows:
Case files did not record what work had been done or show that the information acquired in a case had been analysed. They neither recorded what information had been used to reach a conclusion nor stated why other information had not been used. Standards on record-keeping were not followed. As a result it was impossible for inspectors to ascertain whether or not children were adequately being safeguarded.
Inspectors found that reports were neither clear nor fair and were based on limited observation of children with their parents. They excluded key information and failed to consult other professionals; they included information which was irrelevant, inappropriate, or subjective and did not serve children’s interests. The reports drew conclusions without justification and failed to gather evidence when serious allegations had been made, allowing unsubstantiated allegations to influence recommendations. They ignored the wishes of children, even when they were old enough to express them clearly. Family Court Advisors habitually expressed views beyond their professional expertise; they ignored guidelines on report writing; they did not differentiate between evidence and opinion; reports were poorly written, badly spelt and ungrammatical, exposing a lack of basic education. There was no evidence that a consistent assessment model was being used, and no signs that national practice models were being rolled out, despite claims to the contrary.
Recommendations were made which had not been discussed with the parties and which were not practicable. FCAs jumped without intermediate steps from information gathering to a solution, they outlined their own preferred remedy and sought the agreement of parents and children, rarely exploring the positives and negatives of their preferred option.
2017 – Where are we now?
If we contrast this to the research we’re doing some 10 years later it is obvious that nothing has changed. The Cafcass we see today is the same Cafcass that HMICA reported on in 2006: untrained, unprofessional, poorly structured, poorly managed, lack of leadership, lack of accountability, and still lacking in evidence-based practices.
Is it any wonder that we (and others) are calling for the CEO of Cafcass Anthony Douglas to step down?
In a Family Law system designed for combative parents there is no real allowance for the views of children and any understanding of how Family Law ultimately impacts on children most of all.
We speak for the children in Family Law so that, finally, the children have a voice.