What is the role of CAFCASS?
If you have considered making application to family court regarding arrangements for your children, spoken to people that have been through the process themselves or if you have previously sought advice about issuing proceedings on a children matter, you may have heard of CAFCASS.
CAFCASS stands for Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. After proceedings are issued they play an important role alongside the court in establishing what outcome is in a child’s best interests when the parents cannot agree on what the arrangements should be (such as who the child will live with or how often they should spend time with each parent).
Before your court hearing
After you make an application to the court it goes through a process known as ‘gatekeeping’. The application form is sent to CAFCASS who will undertake safeguarding checks and arrange to speak to each party to ascertain the issues and whether there are any safeguarding concerns the court need to be aware of from the outset. The safeguarding checks include searching police information for convictions or any incidents of domestic abuse for example or whether there has ever been any involvement with Social Services. They will also ask the parties to raise any safeguarding concerns they have about the other party so they can be dealt with as required.
After this CAFCASS will prepare a brief report called a safeguarding letter before the first court hearing. The letter may make recommendations for how the case should proceed for consideration.
The first court hearing is usually called a First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment. A duty CAFCASS officer will be at that hearing to obtain any updated information and to assist the court as to the next steps. If there are no safeguarding concerns and the parties simply cannot agree and the court do not require further assistance from them to make a decision they will have no further involvement on the case.
Where necessary they may be ordered to prepare a welfare report (called a Section 7 report). CAFCASS will appoint a family court advisor (a trained social worker) which will take into consideration all the factors the court must consider. This report is completed usually by meeting the parties, speaking to the child or in some cases speaking to schools or other professionals. The report will make recommendations which could be setting out what the arrangements are or suggesting what other steps as required. Any recommendations will be adopted by the court unless there is a good reason not to do it.
The welfare report will consider all the factors that the court has to consider when making a decision regarding a child. This is known as the ‘welfare checklist’ as set out in Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989:
- the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned (considered in light of their age and understanding);
- their physical, emotional and/or educational needs;
- the likely effect on them of any change in their circumstances;
- their age, sex, background and any characteristics of theirs 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 person the court considers the question to be relevant) is of meeting their needs; and
- the range of powers available to the court in the proceedings
In some more complicated cases where it is unfortunately just not possible to reach resolution, the court has the power to add the children as parties to the proceedings under Rule 16.4 FPR. In this situation CAFCASS will be appointed as a guardian, this is a legal term, they represent the interests of the child who will be added as a party. They will be legally represented just like the other parties can be.
We can assist you through the entire process and support you in trying to achieve the outcome you seek. If you require assistance in this regard, you can contact us on 0161 250 7771, and we can provide you a free telephone conference and agree on a plan of action moving forward.