Family Court Section advice to Napo members

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Napo Family Court Section reps and Ian Lawrence,  Napo General Secretary,  continue to meet with CAFCASS management each week.  We have also been invited to join area consultations to discuss the draft protocol for moving back to face to face work with children and families. We have attended the meetings in the North and the North West which took place on 5th June and in the West Midlands area which took place on 8th June. We are also attending the meeting in the South and South West  (A6,7 & 8) tomorrow.  We are assured that there is no firm date to recommence face to face work.

With reference to attending court hearings: Members should refer to CAFCASS’ “policy position” on attending court hearings (dated the 01.06.20). We were disappointed  that Cafcass did not consult with Napo prior to issuing this. It is CAFCASS’ starting point that we attend hearings remotely unless there is  a compelling reason for an FCA to attend (which must  be discussed with their Service Manager prior to attending) and we urge members to review the policy and follow it.  “ We must ensure that  in these cases that the arrangements are as safe as possible and that the vulnerabilities of the staff member have been considered.”   We are concerned that the risk assessments for individual courts are still not readily available for staff to consider.  It has been shared with Napo that there is one court where an individual risk assessment of  a court is not accessible until you are inside the building.  This is not acceptable.  We have been advised that Assistant Directors in each area will pursue the local Court’s risk assessments.  If any staff feel under pressure to attend a court hearing and the risk assessment for that court is not available to consider in advance we ask you to contact us please.

Every member of staff must have an individual risk assessment to consider the risks faced by you as an individual prior to starting any face to face work. If anyone wants advice about this and wishes to discuss their personal circumstance, please contact us.  This assessment should be individual to you.  It has been raised that some staff may be anxious about raising aspects of their individual circumstances, particularly where they are more vulnerable  through their own health needs or those of someone they care for.  It is also noted that child care arrangements may change if a partner returns to work and staff are left solely responsible for a child(ren) during the day.  On each occasion that direct work is undertaken, a risk assessment is necessary to also consider the venue and the anticipated response of the adult or the child we plan to meet with (noting that some adults may be clear that they will not support a meeting/visit or that the size and occupancy of some homes may not be conducive to social distancing requirements). CAFCASS has advised us that they are in the process of undertaking risk assessments of some of the CAFCASS’ offices as venues for face to face work to take place. NAPO has yet to take part or consider those risk assessments.

PPE:  Cafcass is working on their PPE policy, including consideration of what should be provided and in what circumstances.   Remember: PPE is a last resort where the hazard of close and/or prolonged face to face contact cannot be avoided. Napo’s view is that where we potentially face the risk of close contact with people, particularly those where there is a potential risk of heightened emotions, possible shouting and spluttering, we should have a  clinical grade mask and gloves and a 70% minimum alcohol content hand sanitiser to use on the gloves before removing masks.  Consideration  should be given  as to whether the interviewee should also be asked to wear  a mask.  Cafcass is considering whether to obtain PPE nationally or whether to ask staff to  purchase this and re-claim the costs   Cafcass would need to be clear about the type and specification of the equipment to be purchased and to provide training and guidance on the use of this.

Public transport should be avoided.  We do not yet have an answer to our request that car parking fees will be paid where staff are attending a court building while the Cafcass offices are closed.

Napo reps