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Who are CAFCASS? Your questions answered!

Apr 9, 2021 | News

CAFCASS

Who are CAFCASS?

CAFCASS are the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. This blog post will answer some of the frequently asked questions we get from our clients in relation to CAFCASS. Many of our clients are coming for mediation due to child arrangements issues and often in these cases CAFCASS can have some involvement.

You may be one of those people who are experiencing ongoing child arrangements disputes and are looking to get some understanding on the role of CAFCASS. You may just be interested. Hopefully this short guide will answer your questions and give you some useful insight.

 

What does CAFCASS stand for?

CAFCASS stands for Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service.

 

What is the role of CAFCASS?

CAFCASS represent the wishes, feelings and needs of children in court where there are family disputes, such as in child arrangements. The main purpose of CAFCASS is to provide independent advice and evidence to the court to ensure that decisions are made in the child(ren)’s best interest.

CAFCASS aims to put the wishes, needs, and feelings of the child(ren) involved in family court proceedings first. They provide children with a voice and ensure that their voices are heard throughout family court proceedings.

CAFCASS is independent from the court and their findings are only presented as evidence. CAFCASS is mainly concerned with safeguarding, welfare and safety. However, CAFCASS can have a role in supporting parties to come to agreements as to child arrangements that are in the best interests of the child(ren) and are safe. There do not need to be safeguarding issues for CAFCASS to get involved, but they very likely will be involved if your child(ren) are experiencing or are at risk of experiencing harm.

 

 

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What is the role of CAFCASS?

CAFCASS represent the wishes, feelings and needs of children in court where there are family disputes, such as in child arrangements. The main purpose of CAFCASS is to provide independent advice and evidence to the court to ensure that decisions are made in the child(ren)’s best interest.

CAFCASS aims to put the wishes, needs, and feelings of the child(ren) involved in family court proceedings first. They provide children with a voice and ensure that their voices are heard throughout family court proceedings.

CAFCASS is independent from the court and their findings are only presented as evidence. CAFCASS is mainly concerned with safeguarding, welfare and safety. However, CAFCASS can have a role in supporting parties to come to agreements as to child arrangements that are in the best interests of the child(ren) and are safe. There do not need to be safeguarding issues for CAFCASS to get involved, but they very likely will be involved if your child(ren) are experiencing or are at risk of experiencing harm.

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What cases are CAFCASS involved in?

Firstly, CAFCASS are not involved in all child arrangements cases. They will only be called at the request of the court. Although it is quite common for CAFCASS to be involved. The court uses CAFCASS reports as evidence regarding the safety and welfare of the children in making decisions. This is because the court must ensure that any decisions are in the child(ren)’s best interest.

CAFCASS also provide advice services in the family court in cases involving children. The cases we most commonly encounter CAFCASS with our mediation clients are in relation to divorce/separation and child arrangements. They are involved in many other cases though, such as in care proceedings. In child arrangements cases, CAFCASS may be involved to give relevant children in a case a voice where decisions are being made as to, for example, where they are going to live, or who they are going to have contact with.

CAFCASS also are involved in cases involving child welfare and safety, such as where care proceedings are taking place. Care proceedings involve the primary care of a child being placed with the local authority.

What do CAFCASS do?

When the court has requested that CAFCASS be involved in your case, there is a procedure that is followed. Before any hearing takes place, a CAFCASS officer will do the following things.

First steps

  1. CAFCASS will investigate any safety or welfare concerns involving the child(ren).
  2. Telephone interview. In most cases, a CAFCASS officer will telephone all parties involved to discuss the case and further examine if you have any safety or welfare concerns.
  3. Issue of a safeguarding letter. Finally, the CAFCASS officer will send the court a letter which reports on the checks carried out above. This will detail any welfare or safety concerns found during the initial investigation.

At court

At the initial court hearing the CAFCASS officer will be present. Depending on your case, they may again report safeguarding concerns to the court and yourselves.

Where there are no safeguarding concerns, your CAFCASS officer will likely support in reaching an agreement that is in the child’s best interest. They may propose appropriate steps to progress and avoid any further court hearing.

In some cases, CAFCASS officers can be cross-examined on their findings. This may be where there are disagreements, or inconsistencies.

After court

It is obviously hoped by everyone involved that an agreement will be made at the first court hearing, but of course this is not always the case. Where there are ongoing disputes after the hearing, your CAFCASS officer may refer you back to mediation, or a specific course such as A Separated Parents Information Programme (SPIP).

If there are ongoing safeguarding concerns, the court may order that the CAFCASS officer further investigate those concerns working with the parties involved and produce a more detailed report, known as a section 7 report.

Section 7

What is the section 7 report?

As mentioned above, where there are ongoing safeguarding issues, CAFCASS officers can be ordered by the court to produce a section 7 report. The section 7 report is fairly similar to the previous work CAFCASS have already completed throughout the proceedings. However, it will go into more detail and involve further interviews, usually on a one-to-one basis with the child(ren).

The purpose of the section 7 is to provide the court with information relating to the child(ren)’s welfare and any concerns or risks that relate to the child(ren or other parties involved. The purpose of the section 7 report is to assist the court in making a decision on the particular issue, such as where the child(ren) is/are to live or with who they are to have contact. The report is not a decision, it is only used to guide the judge in making a decision.

CAFCASS reports are often used by judges in making their decision however, unless there are factual inaccuracies or disagreements amongst parties. If you have a disagreement with what is contained in the section 7 report, you can raise this. However, you should be careful to ensure that you can evidence this. Remember, the report is always from the child’s perspective and is supposed to be in their best interests, not yours. This can be difficult but it is always suggested to view child arrangements cases from the view of the child(ren) involved.

The CAFCASS officer in completing the report will usually have one-to-one chats with the child(ren) dependent on their understanding capacity and age. This chat usually takes places in a neutral environment, such as at school. The officer will also have further discussions with both parties involved independently. They may also have conversations with other individuals who are involved in the child(ren)’s life, such as teachers, GPs, other family members for example.

The section 7 report will cover the whole background of the case, including any relevant facts and appropriate evidence. Below we detail what CAFCASS consider, which is what is considered in the section 7 report as well as what has been detailed above.

What is it that CAFCASS consider?

The main consideration is the safety and welfare of the children. In investigating this, CAFCASS will investigate the following things:

  • the wishes and feelings of the child (taking into consideration their age and understanding)
  • their physical, emotional and educational needs
  • the likely effect on them of any change in their circumstances
  • their age, sex, background and any characteristics which the Court considers relevant
  • any harm which they have suffered or are at risk of suffering
  • how capable each of their parents, and any other relevant person, is of meeting their needs
  • the range of legal powers available to the Court in the proceedings

This is not a tick box exercise. The CAFCASS officer may not consider all these things and may consider other things. But the list above is common in many cases.

Do CAFCASS give advice?

No. CAFCASS do not give legal or procedural advice on your case. CAFCASS will be speaking to you to gather information on your case that is child focused. They will not be supporting you individually with your situation. If you are seeking advice or support, you will need to either seek legal advice or access mediation. Remember though that mediators cannot give legal advice, but in the process of mediating disputes can give you important information and signpost you to relevant agencies or organisations.

Do CAFCASS make decisions?

No. CAFCASS make recommendations and present findings. The ultimate decision lies with the Judge. However, that Judge may very well use the recommendations and findings in making their decision.

What if I disagree with what CAFCASS have found or proposed?

This can happen. If you disagree with the content of a CAFCASS report, or things that your CAFCASS officer has said, you can challenge this. You are able to raise any inaccuracies in the facts of the case. However, remember that you will need to evidence your arguments to the court. Also, and perhaps most importantly, remember that the report is not in your best interests, but in the best interests of the child(ren).

 

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Frequently Asked Questions

What does CAFCASS stand for?

CAFCASS stands for Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service.

Do CAFCASS make decisions?

No, CAFCASS will not make decisions relating to your child(ren). CAFCASS make recommendations about your child(ren)'s best interests, which a judge may take into account when making a decision during court proceedings. It is common for a judge to use CAFCASS recommendations when making decisions.

Do CAFCASS give advice?

No. CAFCASS officers will not provide you with legal advice in proceedings. CAFCASS will likely interview you and others involved and then report to the court with a number of recommendations.

What if I disagree with CAFCASS recommendations? Can I challenge them?

Yes, you can challenge the content of CAFCASS reports if you disagree with particular points made. However, you should be cautious as you must be able to evidence this to the court.

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