What should I expect in a CAFCASS interview?
If you are preparing for a CAFCASS interview, The Custody Minefield lists the Dos and Don’ts to put you on the right path for your telephone and face to face meetings with the CAFCASS family court adviser (FCA).
Their most important recommendations are:
- Don’t criticise your ex-partner in a personal way. If there are things they do which concern you in terms of their parenting, and those concerns are serious, explain the actions and behaviours which worry you. If you just complain about them as a person then you will sound foolish and vindictive, firstly because you chose them as a partner in the first place and secondly because it’s irrelevant to the FCA’s job.
- Make sure you’ve got evidence and can back up what you’re saying about any serious concerns. This could be your own evidence through keeping records using ONRECORD. If you’re not keeping a record of the things that happen then you won’t have good evidence to prove your case, so sign up to ONRECORD now and make sure you have the evidence when you need it. There might also be someone who will support what you say because they’ve witnessed it, in which case make sure you say so. If you just say there were serious problems without having any evidence, it might not be believed and, if it’s denied by your ex, the question for those assessing you then becomes, is this a lie or an exaggeration to get the outcome you want. In other words don’t risk being disbelieved.
- Don’t make false allegations or exaggerate. Lots of people will say their exes lie and get away with it and this is certainly true in some cases, but it’s a very risky thing to do. If you lie or exaggerate and get found out your credibility has gone. Even if you manage to con the FCA, if there’s a contested hearing with evidence being heard you still have to get the judge to believe you. So win by putting the best – truthful – case before the court, not by being the best liar.
- Don’t get so caught up in your ex partner’s allegations that you forget to put forward the child focussed arrangements you want to have agreed, which is a very common failure. It’s definitely easy to get caught up in the argument of who did what to whom and lose sight of what’s most important. Make sure you present a good case of your own in a way which the court expects and will mean you are taken seriously. If you have evidence to prove what’s said about you is untrue, even better as it adds to your own case. But produce it calmly and clearly. (More about how to present your case is in another blog to be published soon. If you want to be updated about our new blogs don’t forget to subscribe.)
- Don’t argue or be sarcastic with the CAFCASS officer. It feels good sometimes to let off steam and say what you really think. But what’s the cost? Don’t make an enemy of the FCA. They hold the trump cards and the power as a result of their position. Although it’s not guaranteed they will be listened to by the judge, mainly they are, so the stakes are high.
The CAFCASS interview plan
You will gain a lot by understanding what’s to be covered in the interviews and to have had time to think about how you’ll reply. So prepare well. Read their interview plan to see what CAFCASS cover in their interview and read my previous blog which gives more information on the CAFCASS interview.
The Principles of CAFCASS
You’ll find a lot of information about CAFCASS on their website and how they’re expected to work and see things. I will cover this more in another blog about section 7 reports, so subscribe to be notified when it is published.
The key principles underlying CAFCASS assessments are:
- The best interest principle – the welfare of the child remains the paramount consideration of the court when making a decision about the child’s upbringing. In other words the case is about the child, not about you. So make sure you frame your case around the child.
- Respect for the child’s voice/child’s rights – for example to be heard and to have their views properly taken into account and not to be subject to proceedings that are longer than necessary. If your case goes beyond early resolution your child is likely to be seen by the FCA and ‘worked’ with. See more about this below.
- Child impact perspective – their goal is to understand the impact of the family situation on the child.
- Direct work with child – listening to and hearing the child’s own accounts of their experience.
- Participatory practice – Children are active participants in their family situation so their own personalities, preferences, resilience, or vulnerabilities will contribute to the picture.
- Risk of Significant harm – Domestic abuse, conflict, alienation and other forms of harmful parenting may cause significant emotional harm to children.
- Spectrum of concerns – Not all cases of domestic abuse, conflict or alienating behaviour is as harmful as others.
- Differential child impact – ‘Severe’ adult behaviour does not automatically lead to ‘severe’ impact on the child. Conversely, ‘mild’ adult behaviour might have a ‘severe’ impact on the child.
- Systemic practice – The FCA should consider the parent-child, parent-parent, child-child relationships in addition to the influence of wider family, significant others, and environmental factors.
- Anti discrimination – FCAs must be mindful of any biases that relate to gender, education, class, ethnicity, religion, wealth and disability.
- Avoiding bias – There are reminders to FCAs throughout the assessment process to check for bias.
- Early identification of complex cases – FCAs should be mindful of factors that indicate a case may be complex and at risk of lengthy or repeat litigation.
- Dynamic assessment – Guidance documents and tools should be applied from the earliest relevant point. This is covered more fully on the CAFCASS website.
- Avoiding categorisation of adult behaviour – The goal of the assessment is to understand the impact on the child, not to apply labels such as domestic abuse or alienation.
These principles are worth reading fully to give you an idea of what FCAs are trained to consider and look out for. That way you have time to think about how to respond to likely questions and how to frame your case. If you’re a litigant in person it will also help you prepare a more focused and relevant statement.
How CAFCASS works with children.
To get an idea about the ‘work’ CAFCASS does with children look on the Voice of the Child website where you can read the documents children are asked to complete and the replies CAFCASS gave to questions they asked.
Take a look at:
- fact sheet Older fact sheet
- fact sheet Younger fact sheet
- my needs Older form 7A
- my needs Older form 7B
- my needs Younger form 6
- my plan Older form 9
- my plan Younger form-8.pdf
- Older form 1
- Older form 11
- things that make me feel safe Older form 4
- things that make me feel safe Younger form 4
- Younger form 1
- Younger form 10
Read other blogs we’ve published about CAFCASS here:
- CAFCASS assessment (part 1)
- Why does the family court make stupid decisions about parental alienation?
- CAFCASS: The blind leading the blind
- Parental alienation and the role of CAFCASS
- Parental alienation: Is it being properly assessed in court hearings?
If you want to complain about CAFCASS see how to go about it here. As always you must have the evidence, so keep records using ONRECORD.