Cafcass is the Family Court Advisory and Support Service. It is a non-departmental public body accountable to the Secretary of State, at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). Representing children in family court cases, Cafcass makes sure that the voice of every child is heard and decisions are taken in their best interests, in both private and public law cases.Working within the strategic objectives agreed by their sponsor Department, the MoJ, Cafcass’ challenge is to tackle resourcing issues at a time when demand for their service is increasing. During the 2017-18 financial year the Cafcass National Business Centre in Coventry dealt with new applications for public and private law cases involving over 91,000 children. This equated to over 42,000 private law cases and over 18,500 public law cases. Cafcass has around 2,000 staff which includes around 1,350 Family Court Advisers (FCA – Cafcass’ title for its social workers) across 33 core offices in England. Cafcass is the country’s largest employer of social workers.
A strategic priority to make further savings in budget while still providing the best outcomes for children, at a time of increasing demand for Cafcass’ services, has meant the organisation has had to transform the way it works, working smarter and more innovatively. Safeguarding of children is Cafcass’ first priority, as they deal with complex issues such as abuse;neglect; domestic abuse and substance misuse. Just under 70% of Cafcass staff are experienced children’s social workers, which requires them to get out and about, meeting families and often working for hours at a time in family courts. While Cafcass has recruited to help meet demand, the volume of new applications remains high. Cafcass is committed to taking their work to the next level, which means ensuring that there is resource for every child to receive the best service possible. With an ‘Outstanding’ rating from Ofsted in 2018, Cafcass is committed to making continuous improvements, whether operational, corporate or technical. The organisation is judged on how they contribute and add value to the next level of service, received by the next child.
The challenge Cafcass faces is to make a sustained improvement and reach safe outcomes in a timely way for vulnerable children, while dealing with a higher increasing number of cases. It is Cafcass’ commitment to this improvement, and resourcing, that has pushed innovative technologies as a key requirement within the organisation. One such technology is Robotic Process Automation (RPA) which as part of the action plan creates an agile virtual workforce to capture and extract structured postal data, enabling the completion of some back-office tasks more efficiently. This helps Cafcass’ staff to continue on the path of continual improvement, making vulnerable children’s lives safer and happier.
Following a competition via the Crown Court Commercial Services (RM1063 Postal Goods and Services) Framework, under lot 7, Neopost DCS was selected on price and reputation, for achieving robust commercial security standards with similar sensitive data organisations. With a proven track record in implementing similar efficient, automated processes to those required for Cafcass’ high volume of cases, Neopost DCS were able to meet objectives including demonstrating that the solution and technology is secure, robust, accurate and auditable as well as saving time and paper.
Technologies employed to enable a secure, reliable and scalable service include document management and automated scanning, capture and digitisation of files, which is utilised within the Neopost DCS’s secure outsourced mailroom.
The Neopost DCS solution integrates seamlessly with Cafcass’ Microsoft SharePoint-based case management system to support case progress. SharePoint now leverages the core functionality of secured and protected case storage and enables smarter search and collaboration. Working closely with Cafcass, and its other commercial partners, Neopost DCS provides a critical component in the efficient digital organisation that supports Cafcass’ business improvement and was one factor which supported Cafcass to achieve the ‘Outstanding’ rating from Ofsted. By introducing an integrated solution to scan incoming case documents straight to Cafcass Family Court Advisers (FCAs), Neopost DCS has enabled a flexible and future-proofed technical environment and contributed to Cafcass’ aim of becoming a truly paperless organisation.
Cafcass’ Innovation Project Development Board (IPDB) has a clear focus on increasing the time spent by their frontline staff on direct work with children, through opportunities around utilising new technology and enhanced workflows. Neopost DCS provides a centralised mailroom function for certain critical documents (sent both electronically and on paper) which processes these and tags with metadata for onward transmission to the Cafcass case management system. The range of workflows varies from cases clearly addressed to an individual; documents where whole page reading could be required or where it is not possible to progress the case workflow and so may require Cafcass manual intervention.
Neopost DCS have a 10-working hour SLA for delivery into Cafcass’ systems of all digitised documentation. Given what is at stake for the children and families involved, the security and speed of the solution to process data from local authorities, courts and police authorities is imperative. The RPA solution classifies, separates, extracts, validates and communicates capture driven processes (paper, email, xml, pdf etc). The validation screen looks up against case reference number, surname, postcode, date of birth (DoB) and document type, and routes exceptions based on missing information, case status (i.e. closed), keywords, document type or a mix of criteria. Exceptions can be routed direct to a named Cafcass FCA or different queues for onward processing.
99% of the three most important documents processed through Neopost DCS are received via email/attachments with the remaining 1% of documents received via PO Box or DX:
- Level 2 Police Checks
- Court Orders (largest %)
- Local Authority Checks
Documents are indexed with approximately 5 fields (Cafcass Reference, Court Reference, Child’s Name, DoB) with exceptions routed to the Cafcass Post Exceptions Team (PET), in Coventry, to process manually.
Cafcass’ work is fundamentally grounded in representing children in the family justice system. That gives the organisation a clarity of vision, which means that they can focus entirely on the needs of the child that sits behind each and every piece of information processed by Neopost DCS:
- 1.96 Million images per year
- Over 7,600 images per day
- Over 1,400 documents per day
- Every document is critical in safeguarding children
Using this solution, the Neopost DCS team has successfully automated a number of core workflows within Cafcass’ central team, adhering to the organisation’s 10-working hour Service Level Agreement (SLA) through the outsourced solution and automated processing. Replacing the incumbent provider, Neopost DCS has proved that processes can be securely handled remotely and virtually in the majority of cases. Other benefits include:
- Increasing efficiency and productivity of casework by eliminating manual touch points for higher data accuracy, faster case processing speed, enhanced information accessibility and reduced processing time. This is particularly important to ensure that Cafcass is procedurally fair and that professionals are enabled to swiftly determine consent and the best possible outcome for the child.
- Reflecting the unique voice of every child, and young person, by improving the level of service between Cafcass, courts and parents. A low volume of exceptions from reduced data entry errors has speeded the process and enhanced communication.
- Reducing operational costs to enable Cafcass to become more actively involved as a matter of urgency in identifying the care plan in a public or private law case. This includes keeping Family Court Advisers doing their core functions without the reliance on manually processing paperwork and exceptions.
- Mitigating risk and ensuring security and compliance by eliminating error-prone manual work, reducing human touch points on sensitive data, and automating document archival. While Cafcass’ work is mostly about improving the child’s situation, an accurate, well presented and evidence-based report or case analysis makes a difference for every child in every case.
Cafcass has acknowledged Robotic Process Automation to be a valuable technology platform in enhancing complicated processes and workflows, reducing the time on administrative tasks for Cafcass Family Court Advisors and administrative staff. Against a backdrop of unprecedented demand, this has contributed to increasing capacity across the workforce. Cafcass is determined that the right technology underpins organisational improvement and have set out the next pilot phase of operational and process improvements. Within the scope to improve the digital agenda the organisation is now considering whether artificial intelligence and analytics can be harnessed in parts of the business to support their ever-more sophisticated analytical and research functions - bringing back the benefits to continually improve service levels to support the needs of vulnerable children.