The Family Court Section AGM took place on Thursday 4 October. This was a successful event which started with a lunch and ended with a social gathering for our members.
We debated and carried nine motions. There was a clear theme of inclusivity as can be seen from the information below.
- The Family Court Section last revised its structure several years ago.We agreed that in response to structural changes within Cafcass and the decline in staff members based in and spending time in offices, we need to revisit how the section is organised, in order to continue to be a member led union with a high degree of membership participation in our democratic processes.
We, therefore, agreed that Section Executive Committee Meetings will be opened up to all members who wish to attend. Members will be able to
express an opinion on all items being considered and should be able to
speak to any motions that have been proposed and seconded. Moreover,
that meetings should be rotated around different venues around the country
in order to facilitate members’ attendance.
- We also voted to communicate better with members and potential recruits. We noted the significant work that is undertaken by our activists, reps and officials. However too often the work has gone unheralded and has not been sufficiently visible to members and prospective recruits. We therefore agreed to support efforts to enhance the effectiveness of our communications. We are asking the section officers and Napo officials to increase the priority given to this area. In particular, we suggest that there is a periodic updating newsletter to members and suggest all Section officers should work with the vice-chair (Cafcass) to assist with input into Napo Magazine and that the Family Court committee should contribute an article to each issue. We agreed that Section officers and officials should take steps to ensure that hard copies of the Family Court Section newsletter, Napo Magazine and the family court journal are available in all Cafcass offices.
- We also carried a motion regarding ways to increase liaison regarding the content and publication of the Family Court Journal.
- We voted to maintain the centrality and effectiveness of the Cafcass Negotiating Committee and agreed that the Cafcass Negotiating Committee has a vital role to play in protecting and enhancing the terms and conditions of our members. The Cafcass negotiating Committee must continue to fulfil this function and we voted that we should meet a minimum of three times a year. The first meeting of the Cafcass Negotiating Committee in each new Napo year shall be a planning meeting to which all section officers and family court committee members will be invited to participate, to set out the priorities for the coming year and decide how any motions passed by the AGM will be actioned.
- A further motion was passed which requires us to reconsider the format of the Family Court Professional Conference. This year’s Family Court conference was once again an event of high quality with substantial relevance to work in the Family Courts. It is however regrettable that attendance at this conference was for the second consecutive year substantially below what has been achieved in the recent past. High workloads and the refusal of Cafcass to give staff time off to attend are in our view the reasons for the decline in attendance.
The Family Court Committee is asked to give consideration to the format of the conference, to include consideration of the possibility of a shorter half day conference, active efforts to encourage attendance of children’s panels solicitors and discussions with Cafcass regarding recognition of the event as training which they will support not only with travel expenses but as part of the duties of social work staff.
- Joint training initiatives with Probation members were also agreed to be positive and the Family Court Committee is requested to liaise with the Napo training committee and relevant officials with a view to seeking funding for joint training initiatives to take place at four venues throughout the country to provide training and joint discussions on issues of common interest with members employed in Probation roles.
- The Section AGM also voted to seek to open up Napo AGM Conference Professional slot to members without full conference registration.
Whilst the family court section will continue to encourage its members to attend for the whole of the conference, and not just the section AGM that proceeds it (for which conference registration is not necessary), we are of the view that given our unique position in Napo in that we are not directly involved in delivering Probation related services, our members who are not able to commit to attend for the whole conference, should be able to access the Family Court Professional slot. We agreed to ask Section officers to liaise with Napo officers and officials to explore ways that attendance of Family Court Section members could be facilitated, in future years, without registering for the full conference. Consideration should also be given to the Section taking a motion to the NEC and discussions with the Trade Union Organising Committee.
- The Section AGM recognised the valuable role played by Napo health and safety reps in addressing areas that impact on the health safety and welfare of all staff members in Cafcass. The AGM supports efforts to recruit more health and safety reps with the aim of increasing the participation of Napo H and S reps in workplace inspections and requests Napo officials arrange a suitable training programme tailored to the needs of Cafcass health and safety reps.
- Our last but not least motion that was carried was with regard to Protecting Palestinian Children. The family court section will disseminate information about the treatment of Palestinian children and encourage our members and others to support the campaign for Boycott Divestment and Sanctions.
Overall, we recognised the need to reach out to members and to potential recruits and acknowledge that we want their input and ideas. This is a particular issue with flexible isolated working from home.
There is no doubt that Cafcass staff are over working and a number are sick with work related stress. There has been an increase in members needing to be represented at sickness absence formal reviews and, sadly, some staff are leaving.
The problem is that just at the time people most need union involvement they feel too busy to get involved so, when you do communicate with your colleagues, please give Napo a plug.
The Family Court Section Professional session at Napo AGM
This was an extremely good panel discussion about the future of Cafcass and the Family Court. We had input from Carolyne Willow, the founder Director of Article 39 charity which fights for the rights of children; Samantha Bowcock, who is a Barrister specialising in public law children work and our old friend, Lord Ponsonby (call me Fred) who co-chairs the Justice Unions and Family Court Parliamentary Group. He also sits as a Magistrate in London. Thank you to all three of you and to our members who were there asking challenging questions (and getting good answers).