Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) - RPA Case Study
Treat Every Application Like a Child - Not a Piece of Paper
Cafcass stands for Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. It is a non-departmental public body accountable to the Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice.
Representing children in family court cases, Cafcass make sure that the voice of every child is heard and decisions are taken in their best interests in both private and public law cases.
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.
Government budget constraints, coupled with increasing demand for Cafcass’ services have meant the organisation has had to transform the way it works working smarter and more innovatively.
While Cafcass has recruited to help meet demand, the volume of new applications remains high.
During 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 and Cafcass is the biggest employer of social workers.
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 number of cases. It is Cafcass’ commitment to this improvement and resourcing that has pushed innovative technologies as a key role within the organisation.
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 DCS;
- 1.8 million images per year
- Over 7,000 images per day
- Over 1,100 documents per day
- Every document is critical in safeguarding children
Robotic Process Automation was proposed as part of the action plan. RPA creates an agile virtual workforce to capture and extract structured postal data, enabling the completion of some back-office tasks more efficiently, helping Cafcass’ staff to continue on the path of continual improvement to make vulnerable children’s lives safer and happier.
Following a competition via the Crown Court Commercial Services (RN1063 Postal Goods and Services) Framework, under lot 7, DCS was selected on price and reputation for achieving good 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, 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 DCS’s secure outsource mailroom. The DCS solution integrates 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, DCS provide 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), DCS has enabled a flexible and future-proofed technical environment and contributed to Cafcass’ aim of becoming a truly paperless organisation.
The Value Proposition
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 technology and enhanced workflows.
DCS provide a centralised mailroom function for certain critical documents – sent both electronically and on paper – process these and tag with metadata for onward transmission to the Cafcass case management. 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.
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.
RPA for Data Classification and Validation
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.
80% of the three most important documents processed through DCS are received via email/attachments with the remaining 20% of documents received via PO Box or DX.
Documents are indexed with approximately 5 fields (Cafcass Reference, Court Reference, Childs Name, DoB) with exceptions routed to the Cafcass Post Exceptions Team (PET) in Coventry to process manually.
Using this solution, the DCS team has successfully automated a number of core workflows within Cafcass’ central team, adhering to the organisation’s 10-working hour SLA through the outsourced solution and automated processing.
Replacing the incumbent provider, 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.
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➤ Link to Robotic Process Automation Product Page