Update on Cafcass prioritisation – Deactivation of the protocol in four court areas

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I am writing to provide an update regarding the Cafcass prioritisation protocol, which was developed in response to the Covid -19 pressures across the family justice system. As you are aware, the explicit intention of the protocol was to enable us to continue to allocate all public law work, to protect social work caseloads, and to maintain the quality of practice and the experiences of children and families in proceedings.

The protocol was activated in 6 service areas (affecting 12 court areas) between July and December 2021. I last wrote to you in May 2022 to share the initial learning from our review of early experiences in implementing prioritisation and to inform you that the Cafcass servicearea serving West Yorkshire (A5) had deactivated the protocol. At that time, we had commenced the process of developing local partnership plans in accordance with our learning to deactivate in other service areas.

Despite the joint actions that have been agreed and which are being implemented with local partners, progress is slower than we had hoped. This is a direct result of the continued pressure in the national family justice system in respect of demand, throughput of work and delay. In some areas there are also capacity challenges for Cafcass, HMCTS and the Judiciary. At the time of writing, we continue to have high volumes of children’s cases open to us (13% – c6,000 children – more than in March 2020) with particular pressures continuing in the service areas where prioritisation is still in operation.

I am, however, pleased to inform you that as a result of collaborative work between all partners, in some localities we are now ready to deactivate by the end of September:

Both courts in our South Yorkshire and Humberside service area (A4)

• Kingston-upon-Hull
• South Yorkshire

Two of the 4 courts in our Birmingham, the Black Country, Shropshire, Worcestershire, Staffordshire and Herefordshire services area (A12)

• Telford & Wolverhampton
• Worcester

An update on the remaining prioritised areas is provided in the Annex to this letter. As you will see, we are currently planning for a further four court areas to have deactivated by the end of December.

In addition to the specific work we are doing on prioritisation in these areas, we have also been evaluating the impact of the protocol. We will share our report with you in due course, setting out our learning to inform the next phase of recovery.

We are continuing to develop complementary options alongside prioritisation to build on the work with local partners to manage additional work in ways that minimise or prevent the need
for prioritisation. However, demand is volatile in family justice as we have seen over many years. When considered alongside the sustained high numbers of additional open active
children’s cases (c 6000 children) and increasingly longer proceedings, in turn requiring more work to conclude, as a system, we will have to retain the prioritisation protocol as a means of allocating the most urgent and high-risk cases in areas which find themselves with demand and capacity challenges.

The experiences of children, their safety and welfare and their voices in proceedings remain the most important issues for us all. Many system leaders have said of family justice over the
last two years, that it is remarkable we have been able to keep the courts open, receive applications and conclude proceedings. Challenges remain, however, I would like to thank you for your positive collaboration throughout the pandemic. Together we have found new ways of working and strengthened our relationships. I am confident we will continue and for
Cafcass’ part, we will offer sustained partnership, a willingness to listen and to flex, all the while being focused on the best outcomes for children that we can create.

Thank you for taking the time to read this correspondence.

Yours sincerely,

Jacky Tiotto
Chief Executive

Update on status of cafcass service areas where the prioritization protocol has been implemented

West Yorkshire (A5)

• We deactivated prioritisation in West Yorkshire (A5) in April.

South Yorkshire and the Humber (A4)

• South Yorkshire and Kingston-Upon-Hull court areas to be deactivated by the end of September 2022.

Birmingham, the Black Country, Shropshire, Worcestershire, Staffordshire and
Herefordshire services area (A12)

• Telford/Wolverhampton and Worcester courts to be deactivated by end September 2022.
• Birmingham and Stoke court areas are expected to be deactivated by the end of December 2022.

Coventry and Northampton (A13)

• Coventry and Northampton Court areas are working on a plan to deactivate which includes the capacity of the courts to list and conclude private law. Filing times will be reduced and the criteria for prioritisation should no longer be met by the end of the year.

Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk (A14)

• Essex/Suffolk and Norwich court areas were the most recent areas to activate prioritisation in December 2021. The imbalance in demand (which is currently against the national trend), ongoing delay and capacity remains a challenge and prioritisation is expected to remain in place into 2023.

Greater Manchester (A3)

• Prioritisation over the last 12 months has helped to stabilise the area and performance is now in line with – and in some aspects better than – national averages. However, there are still local issues to address so that local capacity, demand and delay can be rebalanced. Prioritisation is expected to remain in place into 2023.

September 2022