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Cafcass to prioritise children most in need in South Yorkshire and Humber as caseloads soar in pandemic

Cafcass has made the decision to allocate only the highest priority work in South Yorkshire and Humber, amid concerns at a high number of open active cases, finite staffing capacity and staff absence relating to Covid-19.

The agency had warned earlier in the month that it was close to triggering its prioritisation protocol for the area.

Explaining the decision, the agency said that the whole family justice system had already been experiencing unprecedented demand prior to the pandemic.

It added, however, that the pandemic had created backlogs in the court system which had meant Cafcass caseloads had increased beyond pre-pandemic levels given the reduced system throughput in family courts and continued high levels of demand.

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“For these reasons, we have had to make the very difficult decision that we cannot give all families our usual service and must prioritise working with those children most in need,” Cafcass said.

“This will include children in public law proceedings and those in private law proceedings where we are concerned about their safety and welfare. We will continue to carefully assess all cases that are ordered by the court and undertake safeguarding checks, to ensure that the needs of each individual child are considered before a decision is made.”

The upshot of the decision is that all new cases in the South Yorkshire and Humber area will be assessed and cases that are not considered a priority will not be allocated to a Family Court Adviser until there is one available. Parents and the courts will be notified in each case. Where appropriate, children will also be informed.

Under Cafcass’ prioritisation protocol, cases that are considered to be in the priority one and two category, will always be allocated. “These cases will involve all public law cases and urgent private law cases where there are concerns about the safety and welfare of children and where Cafcass are the only safeguarding agency involved."

Cases that are categorised as priority three and four will not be allocated. These cases will be cases where there is already a safeguarding agency involved or there are considered to be no safeguarding risks.

The agency said its position would be regularly reviewed both internally and with its partners in the local court areas. “As soon as it’s possible to do so, the normal process of allocating cases will resume.”

The decision does not currently affect any cases which are already being progressed with Cafcass but will affect new cases received from 23 November onwards.

Cafcass Chief Executive Jacky Tiotto said: “The impact of Covid-19 on all our lives is both profound and frightening. It is weighing heavily on children in particular, whose education, friendships, families, hopes and dreams are compromised. Taking the decision to stop allocating all the work that comes to us has been one of the most difficult of my professional career. There are no easy answers when trying to balance the needs of children and families against the finite capacity of professional social work staff to be supported to carry out their work safely and effectively.

“We are holding at the front of our minds that each case we do not allocate involves one or more children who need our help and we are working closely with our partners to explore all the options available. We are grateful for their support and will continue to work across the system to minimise the impact that this decision will have on children and families. We hope this is a temporary situation, though we are worried about the continued impact of rising demand and slower system throughput across the country. We are monitoring our caseloads and the wellbeing of our staff to support them to be able to do the best they can to serve the children’s best interests. I truly am so sorry it has come to this moment.”

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