Many parents or carers of a child will have not come across CAFCASS before the issue of Court proceedings.
CAFCASS stands for Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Services. They are a Government Agency appointed by the Ministry of Justice, but they operate independently of the Courts, Social Services, Education & Health Authorities, and all similar agencies.
CAFCASS will work directly with the adults and children to safeguard and promote the welfare of children going through the Family Justice System.
On occasion, the Court can order that welfare checks with the Police and Social Services should be carried out by the Local Authority although usually CAFCASS are involved from the offset, and remain involved to make recommendations, unless directed otherwise by the Court.
CAFCASS offer a range of resources on their website for both parents and children, which is particularly useful to support children where parents are separating. We would recommend that parents visit the CAFCASS website.
When an application is made to the Court, a copy is automatically sent to CAFCASS in order that they can carry out initial safeguarding checks. This involves contacting the Police and Social Services to see what information they hold about the parties or the child. They also speak to each party to discover what concerns they may have. If there are no welfare concerns, then CAFCASS involvement in the proceedings will come to an end. However, it is not uncommon that there are concerns raised by CAFCASS. This could be a number of things such as neglect, criminal offences from the Police checks making an individual a concern to a child, parents ceasing contact without good reason, which impacts the child as they require male and female role models in their lives, drug and alcohol misuse and domestic violence between the parents.
In those circumstances the Court may Order that CAFCASS complete a Section 7 Report. This is a much more detailed exploration of the situation and will involve working with the child. There is no direct questioning of children, rather work is done with them to explore their wishes and feelings. The CAFCASS Officer may also wish to observe the child or children with both parents although this does not always happen.
Some parents may choose not to engage with CAFCASS although this would be strongly discouraged as not engaging may result in the Court making decisions without your input and the Court would criticise a parent for this, as it shows lack of compassion for the child’s wellbeing.
Although CAFCASS may not find any major concerns, some parents may be recommended to attend the Separated Parents Information Programme. This is a programme run by CAFCASS and provides valuable insight as to how parental conflict and behaviours can impact on the child or the children. This is in a group setting but the parties would not attend the same meeting group. Speaking with other parents and sharing experiences can really help parents within their own relationships.
The initial Safeguarding Letter may recommend that a Section 7 Report is prepared, and where relevant that the Police are asked to disclose further information or that drug and alcohol testing is carried out.
The Section 7 Report will outline how matters should move forward and what time the child should spend with each parent. It may also suggest that parents attend parenting classes, anger management or domestic violence programmes, support groups and counselling for a parent, child or the family as a group.
There are other programmes available for parents to attend that would be recommended where necessary, although this is dependent on each individual case. These could include parenting classes, anger management and domestic violence programmes, support groups and counselling for a parent, child or the family as a group.
As mentioned above, this letter makes initial recommendations to the Court. It could be that CAFCASS recommend parents to attend programmes or that they require a Section 7 Report to be carried out. In cases where there are allegations of domestic abuse, CAFCASS may recommend a Finding of Fact Hearing take place to establish what the facts of the case are.
The conclusion is the important part of the report as it makes recommendations on what they think is best for the child for the Court to consider, as well as outlining the main concerns that CAFCASS have for the child.
Once children reach a certain age where they are able to decide who they wish to live with, CAFCASS will interview the child at the stage of a Section 7 Report to establish the wishes and feelings of the child.
As the Section 7 Report is detailed and as a guideline it may take 12 weeks or more to complete.
CAFCASS will consider whether there has been any contact in the interim during proceedings and how that has progressed. Some parents may have contact supervised and the positives or negatives will be assessed so that CAFCASS can recommend final contact arrangements and whether the contact should continue to be supervised in those circumstances. In some cases where there are concerns, CAFCASS may recommend indirect contact through gifts and cards to the child, letters, telephone contact or even video messages.
Should you be having any concerns when it comes to making arrangements for your children, whether you wish to apply to the Court or are already in the middle of proceedings and require advice, then please do not hesitate to give us a call and we can advise you further on the possible steps. Andrew Isaacs Law are here to make the process easier for you and understand that your family matters. If you require our assistance, please call 01302 349 480 or email firstname.lastname@example.org