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Insights // 07 December 2020

What is the Role of CAFCASS in Private Children Law Matters?

Solicitor Catherine Currie, in our leading Family Law team, explains the role of CAFCASS in Private Children Law Matters.

Who are CAFCASS?

CAFCASS stands for Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. CAFCASS is a public body independent of the courts and social services which looks after the interests of children involved in family proceedings. CAFCASS officers are usually qualified and experienced social workers and advise the family courts in England on what they consider to be in the best interests of the children involved in the proceedings.

Why might CAFCASS become involved in my case?

CAFCASS will only become involved in a case at the request of the Court. In the context of Private Law children proceedings, this is likely to be where separating or divorcing parents cannot agree arrangements for their children and an application is filed by one parent (or another interested party) with the Court to determine matters.

It is possible that in some cases, social services (as opposed to CAFCASS) will become involved in the case if so directed by the Court. This is usually in cases where the family is known to social services and have or have had some prior dealings with them. Whether or not social services or CAFCASS are appointed in a case will depend on the specific facts of the case.

What do CAFCASS do?

Before the first Court hearing (known as the FHDRA), it is likely that CAFCASS will carry out preliminary safeguarding checks. This usually involves checking police and criminal records and whether the children or family are known to the local authority. The appointed CAFCASS officer may also call all the adult parties involved (e.g. the mother and father) to find out whether they have any welfare or safety concerns they wish to raise in the first instance. These initial enquiries then form a short initial letter to the Court usually referred to as a ‘safeguarding letter’. This letter is usually sent to the Court and the parties a couple of days before the first hearing.

What happens next usually depends on the outcome of CAFCASS’s early enquiries. If no safeguarding or welfare concerns are identified, CAFCASS may try and help the parties reach an agreement at the FHDRA so that there is no need for further recourse to the Court. Their involvement, as well as the Court proceedings, may end at this stage if the parties can reach an agreement that can be endorsed by the Court.

If CAFCASS have safeguarding or welfare concerns, they may recommend the Court orders a fuller and more detailed report be undertaken concerning the child/children’s welfare before the next hearing. This is often referred to as a ‘Section 7 report’. In these circumstances, the CAFCASS officer will usually meet with both parents and children. During the Covid-19 pandemic CAFCASS have used video technology and in-person visits to make their enquiries and the Family Court Advisor makes the judgment about which method is in the best interest of the children concerned. Enquiries are also often made with the children’s schools, health professionals, other family members and parents’ partners if appropriate.

What will a Section 7 report deal with?

The Court will usually direct what the report should deal with depending on the issues in the case but is likely to include consideration of the child/children’s wishes and feelings together with an investigation into the concerns or allegations made. The report should include details of the enquiries made and CAFCASS’s recommendations to the Court on what they consider to be in the child/children’s best interests in terms of next steps or their views on how matters should conclude. The Court’s primary concern when making decisions relating to children is what is in their best interests and they will need to consider the welfare checklist under Section 1 of the Children Act 1989 when undertaking this exercise. It is therefore common for the Section 7 report to detail CAFCASS’s recommendations with reference to the welfare checklist.

What weight will CAFCASS’s reports/recommendations have in my case?

Whilst there is no obligation on the Court to follow CAFCASS’s recommendations, the Court will generally place a great deal of weight on the recommendations. Judges will exercise discretion when considering matters and should explain any reasons for departing from the CAFCASS recommendations. In some circumstances the Court will wish the CAFCASS officer involved in the case to give evidence at Court on their recommendations. It is possible in cases that parties disagree with the recommendations made or may feel they are unbalanced. We can advise specifically on the report prepared and whether it is possible to challenge any part of the report.

If you’re going through a separation or divorce and children are involved, our specialist Family Law team can help.

For further information or legal advice, please contact law@blandy.co.uk or call 0118 951 6800. 

This article is intended for the use of clients and other interested parties. The information contained in it is believed to be correct at the date of publication, but it is necessarily of a brief and general nature and should not be relied upon as a substitute for specific professional advice.

Catherine Currie

Catherine Currie

Senior Solicitor, Family Law

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