Case Study: How Cafcass Turned Itself Round

Nov 16, 2015 earlier this month announced the winners of its sixth annual Top Employer Awards, celebrating the companies it sees leafing the field in terms of gender diversity and flexible working.

And this year's winner of the Overall Top Employer Award, sponsored by You At Work, was Cafcass, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, which was praised by the judges for the significant transformation it had achieved by going paperless.

The Top Employer Award for Innovation in Flexible Working also went to the public sector organisation, which was judged to have transformed itself from an underperforming organisation to one that has earned a ‘Good with Outstanding Leadership’ rating from Ofsted and had doubled its productivity rate, thanks to better use of technology.

For Gillian Nissim, Founder of, “This is the sixth year for our Top Employer Awards and once again we have been really impressed by the kind of work being done by the shortlisted organisations and by the range of sectors they represent.

This made for some really difficult decisions during the judging process, but it is a challenge we welcome.  Cafcass’ entry was really impressive and shows how a holistic approach to flexible working can benefit employees, the organisation and its clients.

"The turnaround it has achieved through implementation of flexible practices is truly remarkable.”

'In a bad place'

Cafcass has been on a major transformation journey, trying to harness the power of technology and culture change to increase its efficiency, boost satisfaction rates for its service users and 1,800 staff and innovate.

“By our own admission, Cafcass was an underperforming and failing organisation, but it has been transformed into a high-performing one,” claims Daryl Maitland, Senior HR Manager. 

After all, in November 2010 Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee said Cafcass – which advocates for children within the family court system – had failed to challenge “fundamental weaknesses in its culture, management and performance” and was “not fit for purpose”. It had been rated “inadequate” by several Ofsted inspections and was, as Maitland admits, “in a bad place”.

Part of the problem, says Maitland, was that expectations about day-to-day performance levels were not clearly communicated. The organisation had a rigorous framework which involved staff having face to face meetings with their managers every six weeks where they would be assessed and appraised, while people were prevented from working from home for a time.

“They felt isolated from the organisation and had lost any sense of the organisation’s expectations, culture and performance levels,” says Maitland. “We had to rein in that flexible working so that we could communicate our expectations and standards effectively.”

The body – the largest employer of social workers in England – also changed the way managers supervise staff. Now, supervisions only take place once a quarter, although everyone has to attend team meetings once a month in the office.

Better, newer tech

The organisation has also invested heavily in technology. All social workers have laptops and tablets with 4G and Blackberries so they can work remotely; Yammer is currently being piloted and other interactive networks such as SharePoint have been implemented.

“One of the problems for managers with regard to remote working was trust. Now they have a system for understanding how much work a particular case might take, it has helped them retain a sense of control and understanding of staff workloads without the need to see them in the office each day,” says Maitland.

Kevin Gibbs, Senior Head of Service, who manages services across 16 counties in the south west of England and the Thames Valley, says social workers get a number of benefits from using mobile appliances like tablets. Firstly, the young people they work with identify with them more and they break down potential barriers between them and social workers in ways that using traditional pen and paper doesn’t. They can write down their views and engage better through interactive programmes on the tablets so social workers have a more direct link to what they feel and think.

“It is more immediate and less bureaucratic,” says Gibbs. Such transparency and directness can help reduce what can be an anxious experience for both young people and adults, he adds.

Technology also means social workers can work more flexibly; by using video and telephone conferencing as well as training webinars, they can reduce the amount of travel they have to do. That makes it easier and quicker to organise meetings as people don’t have to check their diaries to see when everyone can arrange to meet in a certain place at a certain time.

All case files are now electronic, too, so staff can get access to them on the move, whether at home, on visits or in court. Cafcass’ IT systems are subject to strict security controls to keep service users’ information safe wherever staff need to use them. Cafcass is continually developing its systems and has reduced login times and increased ease of use for staff while maintaining high levels of security.

Maitland says the changes have been good for Cafcass’ work and for staff – over 90% of the work completed is assessed internally as good compared to just 30% a few years ago, and when Ofsted inspected in 2014 they validated Cafcass’ own assessments. Furthermore, more than 80% of staff felt Cafcass cared about their health and well being.

Smartphones on the way

Maitland adds that the organisation is shortly switching to smartphones for staff, which, by the end of this year, will include apps and mobile site links for time off, expenses and the company’s benefits package. Video conferencing facilities will also be available through these, for both interviewing service users and to join internal meetings remotely. An interactive online game will also be launched that helps young people better understand the court experience.

Staff will get a choice over the technology they use – and training: for instance, they will have a choice of five different smartphone handsets. “We want them to feel that the technology is not being imposed on them,” says Gibbs.

“It’s all about where staff work, how they work and when they work,” he says. “It allows people more autonomy and that increases their sense of well being.”

(c) 2015

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