Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted)
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Lack of consistency found in the services provided by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service in South Yorkshire.

An Ofsted report published today examines the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Services (Cafcass) in South Yorkshire. Based on a joint inspection in February this year by Ofsted and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Court Administration (HMICA), the views of people who used the court services in South Yorkshire reveal that despite some examples of good work, important aspects of the service are inadequate.

These findings are similar to those of previous Ofsted inspections of Cafcass in the East Midlands and the South East.

Inspectors report some areas of strength in Cafcass’ work in South Yorkshire, including very effective recording in public law cases and a much more timely approach to ongoing complaints. However, in several areas the quality of practitioners’ work with children and families is inadequate. Ofsted inspectors made nine recommendations to improve the delivery of these services, and will work with Cafcass in the region to monitor its progress.

Christine Gilbert, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, said:

“Some of the services provided by Cafcass in South Yorkshire are adequate. However, some failings are serious and improvements are clearly necessary. Overall the region has a number of inadequacies, particularly in the handling of private law cases, where children may be left at risk from domestic violence due to delay in allocation of work, inadequate risk assessment and poor reports to the courts. Ofsted will continue to work with Cafcass in South Yorkshire to ensure that services deliver better outcomes for children, young people and families.”

Key findings from the report are:

Case planning and management: inspectors found that case records often did not show how Cafcass had come to its conclusions about children. While there was no delay in providing a service to children and families involved in public law proceedings, the same could not be said for private law cases. As a result of this delay, the stress on some service users was unnecessarily prolonged.

Assessment: inspectors could not find evidence of a consistent assessment model used by staff. Some service users reported a process which relied on the Cafcass workers’ individual preferences. Service users said that they often did not know what to expect or on what criteria judgements were made.

Safeguarding: private law cases on the waiting list had not been prioritised systematically and a risk analysis of delayed cases had not been undertaken. As a result, Cafcass could not demonstrate that children on the waiting list were not left at risk. This is a serious deficit and a great concern as allegations of domestic violence were a common feature in these cases. The work of one practitioner had such serious deficits in practice that inspectors referred it to the Head of Service Area for review.

Complaints: on the basis of what service users told them, inspectors concluded that there were few complaints about Cafcass. It was reported however that this was either because service users did not know how to complain, were afraid of the consequences or thought it a waste of time. Inspectors found that when service users did make a complaint these complaints were not well dealt with initially. When complaints needed investigation at a higher level these complaints were well dealt with.

Service users and Cafcass workers: service users gave a mixed picture when describing interviews with Cafcass staff. Almost all children and young people said they understood why the Cafcass worker had talked with them. Most children and young people said that they were easy to talk to. Some children described sensitive work with them while others had unsatisfactory experiences. Almost all adults said that they received information about Cafcass that was easy to understand and information on local services in waiting areas in Cafcass offices is good.

  1. The report, Ofsted’s inspection of the experience of Cafcass service users in the family courts in South Yorkshire, and accompanying young person and adult information leaflets, are published on the Ofsted website,
  1. Ofsted inspected the services provided by Cafcass in South Yorkshire to look at the experience of Cafcass service users (adults, children and young people), in family courts in South Yorkshire. The report makes recommendations to Cafcass on how it might make improvements.

The inspection involved studying case files, court reports and other documentary evidence. Inspectors surveyed the views of children and adults service users, and interviewed a number individually and in groups.

  1. Cafcass has a statutory responsibility to ensure that children and young people are put first in family proceedings, that their voices are heard, the decisions made about them by courts are in their best interests and that they and their families are supported throughout the process. Cafcass operate within the law set by Parliament and under the rules and directions of the family courts.

It provides a social work service to children and families who are involved in family proceedings and where the welfare of children is, or may be, in question. Its legal role is to:

· safeguard and promote the welfare of the children

· advise courts about proceedings

· ensure children are properly represented in court

· provide information, advice and other support for the children and their families

4. The Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) has the responsibility for the inspection of adult learning and training, the regulation and inspection of children's social care, the inspection of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. Ofsted inspects or regulates the following services - childminders, full and sessional day-care providers, out of school care, crèches, adoption and fostering agencies, residential schools, family centres and homes for children, all state maintained schools, some independent schools, Pupil Referral Units, the Children and Family Courts Advisory Service, the overall level of services for children in local authority areas (known as Joint Area Reviews), further education Initial Teacher Training, and publicly funded adult skills and employment based training.

5. The Ofsted Press Office can be contacted on 08456 4040404 between 8am – 6pm Monday – Friday. During evenings and weekends we can be reached on 07919 057359

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