Cafcass are an organisation that looks after the interests of children that are involved in family proceedings. They work with the children and their families before advising the courts of the action that they consider being in the best interests of the children.
Cafcass decided that, considering the sensitive situations in which they worked, they wanted to raise the profile of their Diversity group. They organised a training event that was attended by around 60 delegates, made up of social workers, family court advisors and family support workers with the aim of improving the quality of service the provided. ‘Diversity training’ is always going to strike a certain discord with workers; just the name is enough to send someone off to sleep. Cafcass wanted to motivate their staff in the diversity area by making such an event both enjoyable and useful. They also wanted to find out how the different local diversity groups could make a contribution to the different service areas.
At Dead Earnest, our equality and diversity work centres on the need to challenge preconceptions in the audience and our Forum Theatre pieces with Cafcass were no different. We produced three performances focussing on different areas of equality and diversity: disability, race and sexuality.
Each scenario followed a Cafcass employee through different situations; in the first, an under-pressure worker quickly believed the story of a husband being unreliable and drunk, rather than investigating to discover he had actually had a stroke. In the second, a Cafcass employee’s assumption that a child would be better off with her mother in England rather than her father in Pakistan was proven to be false when the child was spoken to. Finally, a family work advisor’s request to be taken off a case surrounding a homosexual man because of religious grounds is rejected, leading to consternation from the employee.
All three scenarios were designed to highlight the meaning of neutrality in this area; it is not necessarily about treating everybody exactly the same. Instead, it is about adapting the approach to specific and individual needs; it is about understanding the differences and improving how you work with them. It helped the Cafcass employees see the importance of embracing diversity, understanding it and by doing that they learnt how to improve their service to those that needed it the most; the children.
And how well did that work?
Cafcass are an area-managed organisation and this Forum Theatre was for one specific location. It was so successful that, over the following year, we developed around 6 scenarios based on the most common issues the Cafcass employees faced. The training was then rolled out across different areas of the country, with the individual areas choosing the combinations of scenarios most relevant to them.