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For members who may not know, I stood down as National Vice-Chair (Cafcass) at the 2019 Napo AGM. I had done nearly five years in that role and that is more than the usual length of tenure (2 x 2 years). I was very concerned that there was nobody from the Family Court Section (FCS) who was willing to put themselves forward to replace me as I think that it is very important to maintain a strong Family Court perspective/focus as Napo is predominantly representing and negotiating on behalf of Probation members, who are many times more numerous than us. They have also been undergoing critical times and crises. I fully understand that, with overly high case-loads, it is daunting prospect to put your hand up for a further role.
However, after a very successful three-day training course for Napo Family Court representatives in November last year, one of our colleagues, Nicola Taylor- Ebong, agreed to take on the National Vice-Chair post, as a job share with me initially, but with a view to going it alone from the 2020 AGM in October. This proposal was put to the November NEC and it was agreed.
In the short term, the Section Executive Committee had agreed to share out our available facility time to ensure that Nicola would be able to get enough time to undertake the necessary tasks. However, we put it to Cafcass higher management that some extra time may be needed. I am very pleased to now be able to let you know that an increase in facility time has been agreed by Cafcass for Nicola. Nicola has been a long- term activist within the Section Exec, her most recent post being Section Vice-Chair and we welcome her very warmly to her new national role.
The Family Court Section submitted a motion to AGM which called for Napo to campaign to move Cafcass away from the MoJ and into the Department of Education. Unfortunately, this agenda item was not reached at Conference but the motion has since been passed by the NEC. The thinking behind the motion was around various issues, not least that the relevant Minister is with the Department of Education; we would not be restricted by Civil Servaice pay limits; and that there is significant pressure within the MoJ around prison and Probation issues. Cafcass is a very small part of MoJ concern.
Nicola and I, together with Ian Lawrence, have had a positive meeting with our new Chief Executive Officer, Jacky Tiotto, and members of her higher management team on 4 February. We discussed the motion (above) but Jacky was not optimistic about our chances of success. She acknowledged that, as a new CEO, finding the right future direction for Cafcass as an organisation is not easy as we have already been graded as “outstanding”. She agreed that we are at the limit of managing rises in work coming in and that there will need to be strategies around this. There are different issues in different areas but we all work with vulnerable children in both private and public law. Jacky agreed to attend and address our Family Court professional conference and we are currently negotiating dates for this.
An edition of the Napo Family Court Journal is due out soon. The Editorial Board members have been discussing how best to manage the Journal and new directions for trialling electronic versions for this year. We have been looking at finding sources of articles from academia and other professionals, possibly with the help of GFTU. There is a CAMHS conference about children’s mental health coming up later this year. I have been considering whether there may be Family Court Section member(s) who may wish to attend this on the condition that they then produce a substantive article/ review for the journal. It is an expensive conference so attendance would be conditional on the production of a quality article. Any member who may be interested is asked to contact Nicola or me in the first instance. The Section Exec has not yet confirmed that we will be able to fund this, but I am just fishing for possible interest at this stage.
The three-day training event in Quorn (last November) for Napo reps and activists from the FCS went well and generated lots of energy and enthusiasm from attendees. We looked at issues such as representing our members in grievances, disciplinaries, sickness absence management, capability and equality. We looked at trade union law and identifying problems and developing strategy. Also at Napo structures and where to get help and the different Napo roles and opportunities to get involved locally and nationally. We came away with plans to make good use of the planned new Napo IT systems and knowledge of the new data protection regulations (GDPR). Our main aim is to be active in “growing” Napo by an effective recruitment campaign. The more members we have, the stronger and more effective we can be. The event gave us the opportunity to spend time with and say goodbye to Dean Rogers, who was linked with the FCS as Assistant General Secretary but has now moved on to pastures new.