Cafcass hold two of their board meetings in public each year to promote transparency, engagement and trust. 23rd January 2019 was a working board meeting with a focus on sharing early thinking about a strategy refresh. The presentation slides were swiftly emailed out afterwards to stakeholders. We asked for permission to reproduce these here but weren’t given it. Cafcass do routinely publish the reports to and minutes from their ‘open’ board meetings here but not until 3 months afterwards. (So the best option for non stakeholders who are interested seems to be to diarise now to come back to this in 3 months!)

This was the first open board meeting we’d attended that was chaired by the (engaged and experienced ex children’s minister), Edward Timpson, following his appointment in April 2018. (See here for the twice postponed House of Commons debate on children’s social eventually secured by Timpson 10 days ago).

Tributes to Nick Crichton (CBE) who sadly died last month (and to the long serving but soon to retire CEO, Anthony Douglas – no news on recruitment save mention of an interim position if need be by April 2019) were also welcomed.

Strategy refresh – Cafcass wanted to share the broad outline of an intended strategy refresh, under the command of (relatively) new Director of Strategy, Teresa Williams, following internal consultation. They’re looking at a 3 year strategy instead of the usual 5, to reflect the political environment.  The plan is to build on their 2018 outstanding Ofsted rating by somehow balancing increasing demand (rising complexity & numbers of assessments within cases) and resources that are spread ever more thinly, including through innovation, evaluation, partnership, back office streamlining, increased use of Cafcass ‘Associates’ and investment in technology.

Here’s a few headline points we took on what to expect next from Cafcass (in the name of transparency):

Improving the research base in the family justice system Expect a continuing emphasis on improving the research basis for decisions about children, in partnership with the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory and the What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care as well as international partners. This will be led by Teresa Williams, after her move across from the Nuffield as Director of Research and Policy.

Family separation as a public health issue – Expect also to see a Cafcass push for parental separation to be treated as a public health priority at national level. See Teresa Williams explaining at the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory site earlier this month on What could a public health approach to family justice look like?  (focused on private law cases in the family justice system).

A Cafcass Family Forum – Building on the success of the Family Justice Young People’s Board (FJYPB) and the engagement model adopted in developing the Child Impact Assessment Framework, Cafcass announced they are establishing a ‘Family Forum’ to hear the voices of parents and family members of children on the Cafcass experience, and to promote positive co-parenting and family relationships. That plan was met with universal approval, plus a sense from some that it was long overdue.

Cafcass have been liaising with Family Rights Group to learn from their experience in setting up a Panel that is credible with families and their co-production model. (See Your Family Your Voice Alliance). We heard briefly from Angela Fraser-Wicks, FRG Trustee and parents panel member who emphasized the need to develop slowly, support those offering expertise from (often) painful lived experience at some ongoing personal cost, and of the need to balance a safe space to talk openly, with a focus on constructive ways to try to minimise risk of future families having negative experiences. There are no plans to advertise for Forum family members at this point. Rather to start by approaching a small number of carefully selected individuals to take the project forward in it’s early stages.

Feedback – The Family Forum sits within a wider aim of developing a more systematic approach to obtaining feedback (from children, families, other stakeholders and partners). Moving beyond just formal evaluations or the complaints procedure to a more open and flexible approach to being ready to hear what people need to tell them on a more open door basis. Specifically they said (something like):

We are keen to get your feedback. Please do follow up: mailto:organisationalstrategyrefresh@cafcass.gov.uk

Voice of the child – We wrote about some tools Cafcass were developing in response to their June 2017 open board meeting on Voice of the Child.  An app that allows children to communicate directly with Cafcass Officers goes live in the next few weeks. Cafcass also have plans to develop a virtual Voice of the Child Centre as an information bank to share resources and standards across the sector and internationally.  The Voice of the Child Conference will also take place in 2019.

Partnerships –Mental health services, DWP and the Home Office were identified as other priority partnerships. 

The details of the next Open Board Meeting (likely to be topic based) will appear here in due course. Members of the public can attend if successfully registering ahead.