The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) are an independent organisation. CAFCASS’ primary role is to represent the interests of children in family proceedings.
CAFCASS will always be involved in cases when children are subject to care proceedings by an application brought by social services (public law). They can also provide assistance when parents have separated and cannot reach an agreement on the arrangements for their children (private law).
The role of CAFCASS in private family law proceedings
If a parent files an application to the family court in respect of a child, the family court will refer the case to CAFCASS.
Before the first hearing, CAFCASS will usually do the following:
- Letter of instruction: If CAFCASS are instructed by the family court to become involved in the case then they will generally send a letter to all parties to inform them that a CAFCASS worker has been instructed and to explain to the parties what their role in the proceedings will be.
- Safeguarding checks: CAFCASS will carry out checks with the police and the local authority to find out whether any party is known to either authority or whether there are any known safety or welfare risks to the child(ren) who are subject to the court application.
- Telephone interview: following any safeguarding checks, usually CAFCASS will schedule a telephone interview to speak to each party separately to find out if any of the parties have any concerns about the safety and welfare of the child(ren).
- Safeguarding letter: a safeguarding letter is a short report that CAFCASS prepare at least three days before the first hearing on the outcomes of the safeguarding checks and any child welfare issues raised in the telephone interviews with the parties.
At the First Hearing
Usually a CAFCASS worker will be present with the parties at the first hearing. If there are no child safeguarding concerns, the CAFCASS worker will work with both parties to try to reach an agreement without further court proceedings.
If the parties are able to reach an agreement, and the court is satisfied that the agreement is in the child(ren)’s best interests then the court could make a Consent Order at the first hearing.
Beyond the First Hearing
If the parties are not able to reach an agreement about their child(ren) and there are concerns about the welfare of the child(ren) the court may ask CAFCASS to complete a section 7 report.
A section 7 report is a report about children’s welfare to assist the judge in making a decision that is in best interests of the child(ren) involved in the case.
A CAFCASS worker will prepare this report after meeting with both parties and the child(ren), if appropriate. A CAFCASS worker will speak to a child to ascertain their wishes and feelings if the child has sufficient maturity and understanding.
The CAFCASS worker can also speak with other professionals that may be involved with the family to gather necessary information for the report.
When writing a report the CAFCASS worker will have specific regard to what is known as the ‘welfare checklist’. The welfare checklist is a criteria that can be found in section 1 of the Children Act 1989. The criteria is used by the court and other professionals to assist them in answering the question of what if in the child’s best interests.
The welfare checklist is as follows:
- the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned (considered in the light of his age and understanding)
- his physical, emotional and educational needs
- the likely effect on him of any change in his circumstances
- his age, sex, background and any characteristics of his which the court considers relevant
- any harm which he has suffered or is at risk of suffering
- how capable each of his parents, and any other person in relation to whom the court considers the question to be relevant, is of meeting his needs
- the range of powers available to the court under this Act in the proceedings in question.
Once the report has been finalised, the CAFCASS worker will send a copy of the report to the court and a copy of report to all parties.
If you need advice and further information our team of experienced family solicitors can help you– contact Fisher Jones Greenwood by calling 01206 700113 or email [email protected]
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