CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) become involved in a case when parents are separating or divorcing and cannot agree on arrangements for the children prompting a court application to determine the issues. They are a public body and independent of the court and social services; and offer an unbiased, impartial view about what they think is in the best interests of the child.
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Once a child arrangements application is made, CAFCASS carries out initial safeguarding checks, which involve checking criminal records, police files and social services, amongst other things. Following these checks, CAFCASS sends a safeguarding letter to the parties and the court. If the matter cannot be agreed early in the process, the court may direct CAFCASS to prepare a Section 7 report, which requires a full and thorough investigation. This article sets out what CAFCASS takes into consideration, which ultimately provides a framework for their recommendations.
What is a Section 7 Report?
The court orders this report when it needs more information about the child’s welfare and what is in their best interests.
Section 7 reports consider a wide range of issues, such as:
- Where the child should live
- Whether the child should spend time with the non-resident parent, and if so, how often and how long
- The wishes and feelings of the child (depending on their age and understanding of the issues/situation)
- Home conditions/suitability of accommodation
- Whether the child’s educational/emotional needs are being met
- Whether it appears the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering harm
- Any specific concerns raised in the case
- Parenting capacity of one or both of the parents, having regard to the allegations or findings made
- Effect on the child of a proposed change in circumstances
- Whether the local authority should be asked to provide a Section 37 report (the court may order this if it is concerned the child is at risk of significant harm)
- Recommend arrangements for the child based on their findings
What will the CAFCASS officer take into account?
When preparing the report, the CAFCASS officer who is assigned to the case will speak to any agencies/organisations involved with the children such as nursery, school, health workers etc, both parents, and the child about their wishes and feelings (depending on their age and understanding). They may also observe the child in their home setting and with the non-resident parent, and sometimes visit their home. CAFCASS will have access to all the documents in the case, including application forms, witness statements or any other relevant material relevant, such as police reports.
Specific things CAFCASS looks to include:
- Background information on your family, including the name, date of birth, and relationship of each person together with the current living and contact arrangements
- The outcomes of the safeguarding checks that have been carried out with the police and social services, if these had not been completed before the first hearing
- Enquiries with outside agencies and organisations such as the child’s school or GP
- Both parties views on the application, proposals, and concerns raised
- The child’s wishes and feelings, if appropriate
- Assess your child’s needs with reference to factors set out in the welfare checklist. This is a list of matters the court must consider when making a decision about a child and includes:
- The child’s wishes and feelings (depending on age/understanding)
- The child’s physical, emotional, and educational needs
- The likely effect on the child of any change in their circumstances
- The child’s age, sex, background, and any characteristics which the court considers relevant
- Any harm which the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering
- How capable the parents, and anyone else the court considers relevant, are of meeting the child’s needs
- The range of powers available to the court
If the court has made findings about domestic violence, the CAFCASS officer should also consider these additional factors:
- The conduct of the parents towards each other and the child, and the impact of that conduct
- The effect the domestic abuse has had on the child and on the arrangements in respect of where the child is living
- The effect of the domestic abuse on the child and its effect on their relationship with both parents
- The other parent’s motivations for pursuing the application, e.g., is it in the best interests of the child or using it to perpetuate domestic abuse?
- The likely behaviour during contact of the abusive parent and its potential effect on the child
- The capacity of both parents to appreciate the effect of past domestic abuse and potential for future abuse.
Although the court is not compelled to follow the recommendations within the CAFCASS report, if it departs from them, it must provide written reasons it has done something else. In reality, the court rarely makes an order that does not follow the CAFCASS report.
What is the best way to deal with the CAFCASS officer?
Our tips for working with your CAFCASS officer include:
- Plan out what you want to say about your case before speaking with the CAFCASS officer
- Be prepared for the CAFCASS officer to ask questions about your relationship and what the other party is saying
- Try to remain calm when talking with the CAFCASS officer, even if you are feeling upset or angry
- Be as honest and open as possible
- Be child focussed and centre on your child and their future needs
- Think about what you want the court to do and be prepared to explain this clearly to the CAFCASS officer
- Let them know about the good things, such as your relationship with your child and what you enjoy doing together. This helps the CAFCASS officer understand your relationship and the reasons behind any proposed arrangements.
- If you have concerns about the other parent’s behaviour or your child’s welfare, consider if there is a link between those concerns and how they affect your child. This will enable you to explain it clearly to the CAFCASS officer.
The information on this website is to be considered a guide and is therefore not legal advice. You use this information with the understanding that Wiselaw does not accept liability for any direct or indirect losses as a result of anyone relying on or acting upon the information on this website. Whilst we endeavour to provide accurate information, Wiselaw does not accept liability for any errors or omissions on this website.