Cafcass has said it supports a renewed focus on pre-proceedings work and managing risk in public law children cases, with more emphasis on gaining and recording the wishes and feelings of children at that stage.
But in its response to the interim report of the cross-professional working group on public law, led by Mr Justice Keehan, it added: “We do not believe Cafcass should have a direct role in public law pre-proceedings work – this is a local authority role and we want to share learning and good practice so that local authority social workers are equipped to undertake this work and get it right first time.”
Cafcass said it also supported the public law working group’s proposals to reduce the number of unnecessary short notice applications, whether made by local authorities at the point of application or courts looking to fill available slots when scheduling.
“In the long-term, HMCTS will roll-out an online C110A form that will prompt the reasons behind a short notice application, with an interim protocol available in the meantime,” it said. “However, we believe HMCTS reforms for family justice are urgent and should, if at all possible, be brought forward.”
Published in July and made the subject of consultation by the President of the Family Division, the Keehan report made core 57 recommendations covering:
- Local authority decision-making, including a re-focussing of the role of local authority legal advisers
- Pre-proceedings and the Public Law Outline
- The application
- Case management
- Special guardianship
- S 20 / S76 accommodation
It also made 16 proposals for long-term change that would require (1) legislative changes to be implemented and/or (2) the approval of additional public spending by the Government.
In its response to the interim report of the working group on private law, led by Mr Justice Cobb, Cafcass said it supported the case for:
- Improved coordination and consistency of services that currently sit outside current legal or dispute resolution services and offer the right support at the right time to families experiencing separation, with practical means – including a revitalised Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) – to support positive co-parenting, so that the family court is not the default option.
- Introducing a triage system for applications to the family court to ensure that case allocation and ‘tracks’ for case progression are based on the individual circumstances of each case. "We believe that effective triage could lead to improvements in directly evidencing children’s wishes and feelings; help address current concerns around how allegations of domestic abuse are handled; and result in swifter resolution of returning cases."
Cafcass affirmed its commitment to working with the judiciary and other partners to achieve system improvements. “As set out in our joint statement with our sister organisation, Cafcass Cymru, we believe this will require a sustained and coordinated programme work overseen by the Family Justice Board, with enhanced improvement support for local family justice boards through improved benchmarking analysis, peer challenge, and involvement of children and families in the design of any changes.”
Commenting overall, Cafcass said it welcomed the initiative taken by the judiciary to review what changes need to be made to the Public Law Outline and Child Arrangements Programme five years after their introduction.
“In that time the family courts have experienced unsustainable rises in the numbers of cases coming before them and the working groups are right to point to the need for strengthened pre-court arrangements to ensure courts are only making decisions about children’s lives where it is absolutely necessary,” it said, adding that it backed the need to take action to improve consistency, streamline approaches, and strengthen case management to improve decisions for those families who do need to be in proceedings.