Cafcass has published its annual report for 2008-09.
Anthony Douglas CBE, Cafcass Chief Executive explained: "This year we have achieved many of the objectives that were set and agreed with the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) at the beginning of 2008-09. We have successfully implemented our new structure, which has resulted in smaller and more manageable local teams, and has allowed us to provide more intensive supervision and support to our frontline practitioners, in conjunction with the introduction of a robust performance management framework, Quality for Children.
"Our three-year grant from the DCSF has helped us to invest in our practice improvement agenda that will continue to be the focus of our efforts in the coming year.
"These developments have come at a time when there is heightened public and media interest in the vital role that our staff play in safeguarding children. In the last four months of the year, we witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of these applications to court, culminating in the highest monthly figure ever recorded for such cases in March 2009. This has put many of our teams under extreme pressure, including some where we have never experienced delays in allocating cases to our practitioners. We will be working hard in the coming year to ensure that we control rising backlogs of work and continue to be able to provide a safe and timely service to some of the most vulnerable children in our society, within the finite resources available to us. In particular, we will, as a priority, develop new early intervention services where they are needed.
"Neither has the situation stood still in private law, where we have continued to work with the senior judiciary to create a new and sustainable, inter-disciplinary model for moving cases forward swiftly. In December 2008 the final provisions of the Children and Adoption Act 2006 were implemented to promote safe and effective contact between children and their families and we have worked closely with our partner agencies up and down the country to ensure smooth implementation. All of these developments have represented major changes to our working models and I pay tribute to the commitment of our staff and to the positive and dedicated way in which they have responded to these challenges."
Cafcass has recently received criticism for its performance. At the annual Association of Lawyers for Children's Hershman/Levy Memorial Lecture earlier this month, Sir Mark Potter said delays by Cafcass in the appointment of guardians and the rendering of reports were "unacceptable". In response, Sir Mark announced the introduction of local duty guardian schemes in some areas where there is a shortage of guardians and children in care cases are facing delays as a result.
In May, Swindon District Judge Byron Carron summonsed Mr Douglas via a 70 minute conference call to explain the delays in preparing reports for three cases before him.