The role of Cafcass in Private Children Proceedings

GEPP

3 May 2024

By Stuart Tyler

The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS), play a pivotal role when assisting the Court in helping them reach a fair and reasonable settlement in respect of child arrangements, as well as ensuring that child/ren within the proceedings are adequately safeguarded.

Initial steps: safeguarding checks and consultations

Once an Application for Child Arrangements Order has been issued by the Court, CAFCASS will be notified, and copies of any documentation issued by the Court will be forwarded to them. Under their statutory duty, CAFCASS will proceed with undertaking safeguarding checks. This will include searches with the Police, Social Services, and their own records regarding all parties involved, and the child/ren named in the application. Additionally, CAFCASS will also speak to each of the parties to ascertain their views of the application originally made.

Providing insight: the initial safeguarding letter

Once CAFCASS have undertaken their safeguarding checks, and spoken to the parties, they will compile a letter, commonly referred to as an initial safeguarding letter. This will outline the results of their searches and conversations with the parties, in addition to their initial advice to the Court regarding next steps. CAFCASS will outline what they consider to be progressive for the case, and this can be dependent on what is shared by the parties during their conversations, and what results are generated from their searches.

Delving deeper: the section 7 report

Should arrangements not be agreed after the first hearing, then it is likely that the parties, CAFCASS, and the Court consider it prudent for CAFCASS to undertake a Section 7 Report, which involves a more in-depth analysis and focuses primarily on the wishes and feelings of the child/ren. CAFCASS will observe the party’s interaction with the child/ren, whether this be at home or at one of their local offices, and commonly, will also speak to the child/ren in a neutral location, dependent on their age.

Given the sensitivity of these type of proceedings, CAFCASS will likely speak to the child/ren either at their offices, or at the school, and away from the primary carer to ensure the child/ren do not feel pressured in their responses provided and do avoid any future ascertain that the child/ren has been coached in their responses.

Guidance and recommendations

Within CAFCASS’ report, they will also provide their recommendations to the Court, which usually sets out what arrangements would be in the best interests of the child/ren, as well any further recommendations that will assist the parties in effectively co-parenting in the future. This can include activity programmes, that the parties would need to attend to assist with any unresolved conflict in the parent’s relationship.

Adhering to recommendations

The Court are likely to follow the recommendations of CAFCASS, as set out in their s7 Report, and it is therefore down the parties to come to an agreement after considering the recommendations of CAFCASS. If an agreement cannot be reached, or a particular party does not feel that the recommendations of CAFCASS are reasonable, then the Court can order for CAFCASS to undertake an Addendum Report, or updated letter, dependent on the circumstances. This is where CAFCASS may be requested to provide an update to the Court following changes to any arrangements to report whether such changes have been a success. For example, a re-introduction of contact where one parent is writing to the child/ren regularly, and CAFCASS will need to report whether contact should be increased in line with the child/ren’s wishes and feelings.

Support and assistance

CAFCASS play a pivotal and crucial role within private children law proceedings, with their goal to not only assist the Court in reaching a fair and reasonable agreement for the child/ren, but a support network for the parents as well. They provide assistance through programmes and workshops in reducing any parental conflict that will ultimately impact the child/ren negatively.

If you are having difficulties with your ex-partner regarding child arrangements, or you’re currently navigating through Court proceedings, and you require confidential advice regarding your current situation, please do not hesitate to contact our friendly and professional Family Team on 01245 228116 or by email at familyenq@gepp.co.uk.