Cafcass hold two board meetings in public each year to promote transparency, engagement and trust. They normally alternate between topic based and ordinary working board meetings held in public. This time they held back their open meeting to Wednesday 9th October, in order to involve (and unveil) newly appointed Chief Executive Officer, Jacky Tiotto, after a long period of interim governance.
The minutes of that open board meeting will be published here by February 2020. In the meantime we flag a few points of potential interest for those not able to attend.
Early impressions and priorities from the new CEO
Jacky Tiotto offered early impressions and emerging priorities based on her first 6 weeks in post, and in the context of the newly published Cafcass strategy for the next four years.
Among the priorities she identified as pressing were:
- A need for some form of demand reduction / gate-keeping in the face of continuing rises in volume of private law referrals (and in the complexity of public law referrals despite a slight drop off in volume). Time for a Cafcass Threshold Document for private law cases ?
- Getting the Family Forum up and running in an effort to be genuinely influenced by the experiences of all users, including those who say Cafcass didn’t get it right for them. Tiotto referenced a fast moving trend towards family lead initiatives such as in Camden; the fact that children are generally located within families such that hearing the adults directly co relates to their experiences; and a potential family forum membership role for organisations as well as individuals.
- A national leadership role for Cafcass, beyond the implementation of reforms from the public and private law consultations (Cafcass responses to those consultations here) to the sort of systemic, framing questions Tiotto thinks need answers at national, cross-departmental level: What should family life in this country in 2019 look like? When should the state be interfering? What sort of systems wide solutions are required to get beyond a reactive demand lead system? Tioto suggested radical reforms beyond those currently on the reform agenda are probably required.
Watch out also for:
- Closer collaboration with local authorities including possible task sharing, in an apparent pragmatic, resource-lead shift from previous unqualified assumptions about the need for separation of Cafcass from local authorities. [Inevitably raising questions about whether and how appropriate safeguards will be built in.]
- Conversations are also already underway with Frontline on social work recruitment for Cafcass (without undermining local authority recruitment capacity).
- A continued focus on making better use of Cafcass data at local partnership and systems leadership levels. Including to inform understanding of regional variations in care proceedings numbers.
- A commitment to greater transparency of working, not just with partner agencies but with the families Cafcass serve and the wider community. The new strategy 2019-2023 features an aspiration for “a more transparent service so that children and families understand what will happen at each stage of their case” Alongside a goal of enhanced capacity to show the rationale behind individual decisions made. And a commitment to understanding the difference Cafcass involvement can make so as to improve the service.
Cafcass remain the only part of the family justice system consistently holding board meetings in public, so far as we know. They’ve done it for several years now. They also consistently publish the minutes of their meetings. The Family Justice Council have held open meetings but don’t appear to have maintained the initiative. The Family Procedure Rule Committee hold occasional open meetings (and have now published minutes outstanding since November 2018).
The Cafcass open board meetings are a welcome contribution to transparency, both as a model and in themselves. The next is due to take place on 22nd January 2020. We imagine it is likely to be topic based. Members of the public can attend if successfully registering ahead.