Open family court cases remain “exceptionally high”, Cafcass says
Cafcass says open cases have increased by more than a quarter compared to May 2020 as demand picks up after pandemic lows.
The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) says open cases have risen by more than a quarter when compared to the same time last year, receiving 4,912 new cases in May 2021.
Cafcass, which represents children in family court cases in England, says it received 9,867 new cases in the first two months of 2021/22, an increase of 13.6% (1,179) compared to the first two months of the previous financial year.
Cafcass, which is the largest employer of qualified social workers in the country, says the increase is largely explained by the “record levels of low demand seen in the first two months of the 2020/21 period, following the first lockdown that began in March 2020”.
A case is considered as ‘open’ where the proceedings are ongoing in HM Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) and there is potential for Cafcass to be ordered to do further work.
A spokesperson for Cafcass explained that overall caseloads have increased and that they have been impacted by the slower family justice system because of the pandemic, with cases held by Family Court Advisers staying open for longer.
“The number of open cases has remained exceptionally high, alongside continued high new case demand,” the spokesperson said.
“The significant increase in new demand compared to the same period in 2020 is due to record low levels of demand experienced in the period following the first COVID-19 restrictions which were introduced in March 2020.”
Cafcass says it is dealing with the increase in caseloads by continuing to review the need for prioritising allocation of work on a weekly basis, considering various aspects of capacity, including workload, workforce planning and absence.
Cafcass was allocated £3.4m approved COVID-19-related overspend in the last financial year by the Ministry of Justice. It says this temporary increase in funding helped to recruit additional Family Court Advisers to meet this demand and alleviate some of the pressure on its staff and on the children and families they serve. Their budget for 2021-22 is £7.9m higher than the 2020-21’s original budget.
“We remain of the view that it is the reform of the family justice system that will bring a lasting solution for families seeking the help of the courts,” a spokesperson said, adding: “We continue to work closely with our partners to actively support the development and implementation of more fundamental change, especially in private law.”
Cafcass received 1,373 new public law cases in May 2021 featuring 2,168 children. This represents a decrease of 4.3% (61) cases and a decrease of 9.3% (222) children in the 1,434 public law cases received and on the 2,390 children in those cases in May 2020.
They also received 3,539 new private law cases in May 2021 featuring 5,211 children, representing an increase of 203 cases (6.1%) and an increase of 80 children (1.6%) compared with May 2020. The number of new private law cases was 92 fewer than in April 2021.
Cases are closed on Cafcass’s management system when the final legal output for all children on all applications are received.
Earlier this year, Cafcass launched its social work academy and three-year training programme for Newly Qualified Social Workers. However, the professional association for Children’s Guardians criticised the use of newly qualified staff at Cafcass due to the complexity of the cases and seriousness of the decisions.
Nagalro, which represents Children’s Guardians and Family Court Advisers, said in a statement at the time: “In our view Cafcass roles are unsuitable for newly qualified and inexperienced staff because the cases which Cafcass has to deal with tend to be extremely complex, and the decisions about children’s lives that courts have to make are the most serious.”
This story was updated on 22 June 2021 with further comments from a Cafcass spokesperson.
Read: Cafcass roles ‘unsuitable for NQSWs’ says association for children’s guardians
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