27 September 2023
Napo’s submission for the review of the reconfiguration of Band 8 roles
Napo has consulted with our members with respect to the reconfiguration of Band 8 roles. Band 8 was previously the role of Practice Supervisor (PS). Band 8 is now split into two roles; Consultant Family Court Advisor (CFCA) (Band 8a) and Assistant Service Manager (ASM) (Band 8b) which came into effect on the 01.04.23 and are due to be reviewed in October 2023. We have consulted our members who have raised the following issues/comments to the following questions:
- What has gone well?
- What have been the challenges?
- What needs to change (if anything)?
Please also refer to the paper submitted by Napo dated the 24.10.22 as some of the points raised prior to the reconfiguration continue to be made by our members. This has been attached for ease of reference.
What has gone well?
It has been reported by members that this has provided a good opportunity to develop management skills and experience and to attend SAM meetings.
The mentoring offered has been reported as positive. Members have also reported that it has been good to make links with other ASMs in different teams and in other areas.
The training has been reported as good (although it has been a great demand on our members’ time).
Members generally reported that they liked the mixture of children’s casework and management tasks.
What have been the challenges?
The most pressing concern reported by our members is the demands of the ASM workload, which members feel are unachievable and unsustainable within their contracted hours. Members reported that they are working significant additional hours daily (above their contracted hours) to meet the demands of the ASM role. They find if difficult, if not impossible to take the hours back through the TOIL scheme and they are not paid overtime. Members have said that they are “firefighting” all the time and that it is “exhausting” managing everything.
We have been advised that many ASMs have felt disillusioned and have stepped down from their role to the role of CFCA or have left the organisation.
The reduction in children’s casework (to a maximum of 6 children’s cases) has been challenging and in many cases ASMs have and are holding more than 6 children’s cases. We were advised that at a ASM bi-monthly meeting in August 2023, which was chaired by Marie Gittins, it was shared that many ASMs had more than 6 cases with some having 20 + cases. We understand that Marie wrote to all SMs and HOPs reminding them of the agreed children’s caseload for ASMs and we await feedback from our members as to whether this had had an impact or not.
Having said that, the general feedback from our members was that even if their children’s caseload had reduced to a maximum of 6 cases, this was still unmanageable due to what is often the complexity of these cases and the demands of the management side of the ASM role, which tends to take over and take them away from their children’s casework. ASMs need to have some capacity to take children’s cases at short notice if there are urgent cases that cannot be allocated or if FCAs unexpectedly become unwell or they leave the organisation.
There also needs to be consideration of what is happening in the team more generally. If a team has a lot of instability by way of sickness, capability, vacancies and new FCAs, the demands on ASMs are greater than if they are in stable teams. There needs to be some reflection of this.
ASMs reported that they are not just providing support to those FCAs they line manager, but also to other FCAs within their team that they do not manage. Others reported that they are also required to support FCAs from other teams. We have been told by members that the volume and detail of emails and the invites to meetings are overwhelming and that it is difficult to know what to prioritise.
Many of our ASM members advised us that there is simply not the capacity to allocate all the children’s casework to FCAs in their team, and that is why their caseloads have exceeded 6 cases, and that allocation is particularly challenging due to recruitment and retention difficulties within the organisation.
Concern was raised about the limited number of CFCAs, the delay to the role out of the CFCA role and consequently the impact that this is having on the demands of the ASM role. As one member put it:
“Despite caseloads having come down to near enough the recommended level, ASMs are still doing the job of an FCA, PS and SM - and CFCA! It is unmanageable”.
It is felt that for the ASM role to become more manageable, there can be no further delay to the role out of CFCAs. There is considerable worry about what will happen if the CFCA post is not given approval by the MOJ for full national roll out. Questions have also been raised that if the CFCA role is approved and rolled out nationally, how are their reduced caseloads going to be managed when it is already challenging to allocate work to FCAs.
Concerns have been raised that there is little difference between the role and responsibilities of the ASM and the SM role and as such our members seek for job evaluation/pay scales to be reviewed.
There needs to be clarity on what cover ASMs provide in the absence of SMs. If SMs are on leave who covers their work? Some of our ASM members report that they do it.
Members have said that the confirmation process has felt daunting and onerous, and they report that the evidence/requirements for confirmation in post has changed over time with different forms being brought in. Some members reported that their confirmation has been delayed, down to factors outside their control, for example volume of work.
The feedback from CFCAs who had held the PS role is that they have felt de-skilled as they are no longer able to undertake tasks that they used to do, for example, situational supervision, second reading of reports and allocation. They feel that there is a vast gap between the roles and responsibilities of the CFCA role and the ASM role (but there is very little difference in pay between the two roles).
Members who were previously PSs in discreet roles for example in NIS, Cafcass Associates and post assessment hubs have reported that their experiences have been particularly disappointing and frustrating, as they were initially advised that they could choose the ASM role, but they did not receive letters until the 31.03.23 (the day before the changes), which advised them that they could not and that they would have to be CFCAs. They feel that they had not been considered and some of these individuals have now left the organisation. Others are left feeling rather disillusioned and that they have been treated unfairly. There should have been an Equality Impact assessment on the proposed changes so that the impact on all staff in PS post could have been considered. Why have some ASMs in hubs been allowed to link to teams to have supervisory responsibilities and others have not?
What needs to change (if anything)?
A general reduction in children’s cases for al ASMs. Six children’s cases are too many. Further, there needs to be consideration of the stability/instability of the team in identifying appropriate work for ASMs.
There needs to be an urgent review and reduction of the volume of work undertaken by ASMs and the hours that they are having to work.
The role out of the CFCA role needs to happen without any further delay.
There needs to be a wholescale review of the expectations of management oversight and auditing particularly considering the finite resources of the organisation and the recruitment and retention difficulties that there are.
There needs to be a level of discretion and proportionality applied about the amount of practice observations and audits that are undertaken with FCAs taking into consideration their experience and performance.
There needs to be a job evaluation/review of pay scales for the ASM and SM roles.
There needs to be clear guidance as to who covers for SMs when they are on leave, sick leave or if the post is vacant.
Presently ASM posts are advertised internally and externally at the same time. It is Napo’s view that ASM and CFCA posts should be advertised internally in the first instance and only be advertised externally if there is no successful appointable candidate from an internal process. It was our understanding that this reconfiguration was implemented in part to support career progression within Cafcass and as part of a retention strategy. It has come to our attention that internal applicants for the ASM role must have line manager approval to progress their application. This could bring disadvantage to an internal applicant over an external applicant who needs no such permission.
Napo has been asking for a time and motion study of all practice roles for some time. It continues to be our view that it is imperative that this takes place. The tasks and expectations have grown exponentially in recent years with no understanding of how they have impacted upon practitioners’ time.
In closing, we would like to give the last few words to our members:
“The positives to come out of this is the training offer/opportunity to develop skills in line management, but I suspect many of us will end up taking our new skills elsewhere if the pay and responsibilities are not reviewed”.
“Big training offer, mentoring sessions useful, our caseloads have gone down. Flipside is that training was a massive demand on our time as has been attending additional meetings. Our responsibilities are becoming greater every day. There is too much focus on numbers which does not give a true reflection. The number of people I manage is not reflective of what I am doing”.
“I supervise 3 FCAs, there are 9 others I help. I am mad busy. It is tough. I almost feel like crying due to the stress that we are under”.