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CAFCASS

Volume 450: debated on Monday 23 October 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills in what ways Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service officers are held accountable for the content of their reports under the organisation's complaints policy. (94874)

[holding answer 17 October 2006]: This is a matter for the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS). Anthony Douglas, the CAFCASS chief executive has written to the hon. Member with this information and a copy of his reply has been placed in the House Library.

Letter from Anthony Douglas, dated 18 October 2006:

I am writing to you in response to the parliamentary question that you tabled recently: PQ94874–In what ways Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service officers are held accountable for the content of their reports under the organisation's complaints policy?

The reports that CAFCASS practitioners submit in the range of Family Court proceedings are professional assessments made by practitioners to assist the court in reaching a conclusion in complex disputes concerning the best welfare interests of the children at the centre of those proceedings.

The individual practitioner is necessarily accountable to the court for the content of that report and the method that was used to compile that report, and the professional basis of the assessment that is made within it. The Court hearing offers parties to the court case the opportunity to challenge both the content of the report and the method used by the CAFCASS practitioner to produce their assessment.

CAFCASS complaints procedures allow for any factual errors in reports to be corrected prior to the court hearing where CAFCASS has been informed or becomes aware of such errors in advance of that hearing. This would not include any issues of disputed facts, which would be matters that the court itself would have to consider, weigh up and form a judgment about, in the light of all of the available evidence before it.

CAFCASS as an organisation holds the responsibility for ensuring that such reports are prepared to recognised standards and that the quality of work undertaken by practitioners on its behalf, in preparing and completing such reports, meets these standards. CAFCASS practitioners are directly accountable to their line managers or contract managers for their adherence to its Service Standards. Allegations that CAFCASS practitioners have breached CAFCASS Service Standards are specifically noted within CAFCASS complaints procedures as being matters that can properly be examined within those procedures.

Complaints about CAFCASS in particular cases, which are not resolved by its complaints procedure, can be referred to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

During the course of 2006 CAFCASS has introduced new quality assurance procedures in order to guarantee the quality of reports prepared on its behalf, prior to them being submitted to the Courts. CAFCASS is also currently consulting on new national standards to replace existing current Service Standards, for all its work including report writing, and is about to issue on 1st November a new Record Keeping Policy.