Cafcass Chief Executive Shares Her Plans For The Future

Back in September 2019, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) welcomed their new Chief Executive Jacky Tiotto.

As the Chief Executive, Jacky will lead Cafcass social workers and corporate staff in achieving the best possible outcomes for children, young people, their families and carers, who are engaging with the family courts. The strategic leadership role is accountable to the Cafcass Board, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and to Parliament.

A few months after settling into her role, Jacky has taken the time to offer her insights into the direction she is going to point Cafcass in over the next four years, and addressing the main issues the organisation faces.

Cafcass has just launched a new strategic plan which sets out the direction for Cafcass over the next few years, are you looking forward to being involved in developing and implementing the new strategy? What will be your first priority? 

I am very much looking forward to the part I can take in setting our strategic priorities for the next few years. Cafcass is a highly effective organisation and its people are very experienced and committed to the work they do. We are currently deep in national conversation with each other, through a programme of roadshows, about what we should prioritise, how, why and when. Two very early priorities will include making sure that the staff we have (and those we want to attract) feel supported, clear and excited about our developing work programme – specifically that they can make a serious and positive difference to  the lives of families and children – and that our new families forum is an innovative conversation about how we can improve our understanding about the experiences that families and children have with us when we are working together.

What are the main issues and/or challenges Cafcass need to address?

Our main issues pivot around the unrelenting growth in public and private law work. We are very worried that without some significant system reform, the quality of the experience for families in public and private proceedings will be compromised. Cafcass is at capacity in respect of case volume and we are forecasting continued overall growth in our work of 5% a year. We are not resourced, nor are the courts to take on more work and even if we were, we are not convinced that our current system for family justice is set up to manage the challenges of modern family life.

Specifically, in respect of private law, we believe that radical change is needed to require families to access non-court services unless there is a risk of harm of their children in so doing. And in respect of both public law and private law, we want to use our expertise and experience to drive a stronger national conversation and practice change in how families are supported to protect their children and to be good enough parents.

What different skills do the courts and social work professionals bring to the family justice system?

The role of Cafcass is to advise the courts when they are making the very important and often lifelong decisions for children. As those decisions are based on the principle that the child’s welfare is paramount, the social work expertise brings to the court, the skills required to provide assessments of what the individual child needs as well as ensuring that their voice is heard in any family proceedings. The court’s role is in forensically assessing evidence and reaching judgements in the face of often competing narratives.

Looking at Cafcass’ three broad strategic goals, how will Cafcass reach their first goal which is ensuring consistent quality of service?

In my experience, consistency is only possible through regular conversation about how children and families experience us. As I have said, in prioritising feedback (and not just from families, but professionals too), we hope to increase our practice and business thinking about how to improve what we do. In turn, we hope that our improvement priorities are clear, realistic and well led by our talented managers. We are also intending to strengthen and enrich our oversight and understanding about our work through more connected regional reviews and deeper investigation with our staff about what works well.

Looking at your second goal, how are you going to support your staff to carry out their job to the highest of standards?

Our people are our most important asset and we intend to make sure that the professional environment in which they work is the best it can be. We will not accept or allow unreasonable demands to be made of them by absorbing continued growth and we will be sure that they have the resources they need to work effectively. Cafcass is a highly ambitious organisation with a culture that is hungry to innovate and to be as efficient as it can be. The innovations are driven by an engaged staff group whose views effect change. Our work will be led and informed by the people who have the most contact with families, whether as social workers, corporate or business service staff and I hope that as a member of the senior leadership team, I am held to account by our people about the extent to which we do support and enable them to do their best work.

Lastly, in regards to your third goal, how is Cafcass going to collectively improve the family justice system and wider family policy?

Our strategic priority to work with partners is critical in this regard because Cafcass is only one part of the family justice system and the policy within it. We are calling for a national implementation programme of family justice reform, building on the very wise and well – informed work of the President’s judicial working groups on public and private law. We take our responsibility as a partner in this system very seriously and we expect to be involved in the leadership of any reform programme. But we are clear that we need to be nested alongside the Judiciary, local authorities, our sponsor government departments and relevant professional partners in order to make the change happen. We feel the time is now and we know that without change, there are significant challenges which will not be overcome.

Looking to future, what are your aspirations for Cafcass?

Cafcass is one part of a national system brokering the extent to which the state needs to intervene in private family life. This is a privilege which we want to use to our very best ability. We will remain a strong voice for the experiences of children who are after all tomorrow’s adults and who need society to hear their voices, wishes and feelings about their futures as well as about how their current experiences can be improved. We also want to hear and help their families since that is where most children grow up and live. We will continue to be interested and active in seeking feedback about our work, learning and changing in response to it. We hope to be a good partner to colleagues involved in this very special work.

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