Cafcass, Winner 2015, The Centrica Best for Flexible Working Award

Cafcass (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) is a non-departmental public body that safeguards and promotes the welfare of children; gives advice to family courts; makes provision for children to be represented; and provides information, advice and support to children and their families.

Cafcass has undergone a wholesale transformation; in 2010 the Public Accounts Committee declared Cafcass as ‘not fit for purpose’ and Ofsted inspections between 2007 and 2010 raised significant concerns.  Furthermore, from 2009 Cafcass faced additional challenges, with care application demand rising 75.4% between 2008/09 to 2013/14 and their budget reducing by £6m from 2010 to 2014.

The total organisational and cultural transformation has been enabled by becoming entirely flexible.   Cafcass has invested in technology to enable staff to focus on the front line, and provided its workforce the tools and resources they need to allow daily routines around work, family and personal commitments to be managed by the individual. All staff have been given 4G laptop or tablets, as well as BlackBerrys, allowing them to work flexibly at home, in the office, at court, or when travelling to visit service users. Video-conferencing facilities were introduced, which can be accessed via individual laptops, thereby reducing the need to travel to offices for meetings but maintaining face-to-face communication.

Cafcass has also become almost entirely paperless. Case files are digital and available online, so social workers no longer have to transport heavy case bundles to court. A new electronic case management system is also now available, which drastically reduces the time taken by social workers on case bureaucracy. There is no requirement for staff to be in the office as performance is measured on output, not visibility, while a workload weighting system ensures a fair distribution of cases within a team.

Cafcass has measured its outcomes and registered impressive results:

  • 105,000 hours, previously spent on administrative activities, have been freed up by 4G laptops;
  • 94% of staff work remotely (at court, while travelling or at home) once a month;
  • Sickness rates have decreased by 55% from 16.2 days per person in 2009/10 to 7.3 days per person in 2013/14, reducing the cost of absence from £3.2 million to £1.8 million.

Most importantly, flexible working has contributed to improved service delivery timescales:  care and adoption cases (public law) have reduced from 57 weeks in 2011/12 to 31 weeks in 2013/14, while completion times for divorce and separation cases (private law) have reduced from 29 weeks in 2011/12 to 18 weeks in 2013/14.

The transformation has been validated externally.  In 2014 Cafcass was assessed as ‘good with outstanding leadership’ by Ofsted. The report highlighted the impact technology and flexibility has had on enabling a cultural shift that has supported frontline practice improvement.

Cafcass plans to continue to harness the latest technologies to drive further efficiencies and to support and encourage more flexible working for the ultimate benefit of the vulnerable children it supports.