ADCS and Cafcass launch guidance for social workers on working together in care proceedings following steep rise in applications
Local authority leaders have united with Cafcass to develop guidance for social workers in a bid to tackle the steep rise in care applications over the last year.
Cafcass chief executive Anthony Douglas has previously warned that the surge in the number of care applications during 2015-2016 has become a “major issue” for the organisation. The comments came after Cafcass received 12,741 care applications during 2015-2016, a 14.2 per cent rise from the same period during the previous year.
The president of the family courts division has spoken out about the “crisis” in the care system: Sir James Munby said the courts were “ill prepared” for the rise in care applications and warned that there is no clear strategy in place to deal with the increasing number of applications.
Cafcass and the Association of Directors of Children’s Services have produced guidance for social workers involved in care proceedings “to strengthen the way in which social workers, IROs and children’s guardians work together in the best interests of children who are the subject of proposed or issued public law proceedings”.
The agreement sets out how local authorities and Cafcass aim to work together on assessments, care plans and pre-proceedings work to secure swift outcomes for children, young people and their families. It also recognises the distinct roles social workers and guardians play and provides a framework for resolving disputes between professionals.
“In our view, two social work agencies with the same professional standards and training should be able to agree on the evidence base on which recommendations about the future of the most vulnerable children in the country will be based,” says the guidance.
The guidance also states that a central pillar of the Public Law Outline (PLO) is that the combined expertise of the social worker and the guardian should be sufficient ‘expertise’ for the vast majority of cases. Use of additional experts should be limited to cases where a particular expertise from a different discipline is required.
Social workers and guardians need to reach agreement, if possible, on the main narrative in the case, the reason for proceedings as well as the basis for the interim proposal for placement and contact; the analysis of the impact on the child of what has happened in their family; plus what needs to be done now to bring about positive change for the child during proceedings and then for the rest of their childhood, where this can reasonably be predicted.
Social workers, IROs and children’s guardians should work together through discussion, using a learning circle methodology, says the guidance, adding that whatever mechanism is used, a problem-solving and solution-focused climate and culture should be established in the meeting.
Andrew Webb, ADCS lead on family justice, said: “This agreement confirms the expertise of social workers in the courts and the vital role they play in securing swift, safe outcomes for children at risk of harm. The commitments made by both ADCS and Cafcass will help not only on a day to day basis, but on supporting the system which is under continuing demand and financial pressure and shows no signs of easing.”