CAFCASS is the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. The organisation was set up to promote the welfare of children and families involved in the family court.
Although CAFCASS is there to help, sometimes it may be the case that a dispute arises and you wish to make a complaint about CAFCASS.
Why do CAFCASS get involved?
Applications for a child arrangements order are made under Section 8 Children Act 1989.
Often the court will then request a report from a children and family reporter who is an officer appointed by CAFCASS. The report will tell the court what the child wants and feels. CAFCASS’ recommendations are based on what they think is in the child’s best interests and not just on the child’s wishes. Usually the judge will rely on the CAFCASS report and will treat the CAFCASS officer as an expert.
The child and CAFCASS
In some exceptional circumstances, where the case is particularly difficult for example in some parental alienation cases, the court may order that the child is made a party to the proceedings. A children’s guardian (who is also a CAFCASS Officer) is appointed to represent the child in the proceedings and the guardian appoints a solicitor to represent the child. But if the child and guardian do not agree on what recommendations to make to the court and the child is of sufficient age and understanding, the child can instruct a solicitor to represent his or her views and the guardian will present their own views to the court separately.
What to expect from CAFCASS
The Voice of the Child website raises quite a lot of issues and is well worth visiting.
Three of our blogs are about CAFCASS too:
- Parental alienation: What you should do if CAFCASS get involved in your case
- CAFCASS: The blind leading the blind
- Parental alienation: Is it being properly assessed in court hearings?
The Voice of the Child has asked some very challenging questions about the way CAFCASS work in private law cases (when the case is brought by one of the parents).
If you look on their website at the page entitled “CAFCASS, evidence, and witnesses” you will find these links to documents CAFCASS ask children to complete.
Take a look at the forms your child might be asked to complete.
- What do you think of the language used?
- What do you think about the suggestion that your young child will be asked the question “Can I work on My Needs,Wishes and Feelings by myself, before meeting with the Family Court Adviser?” What does it even mean?
- How do you think these workers will make their decisions and recommendations?
- Would you want them influencing decisions about you or your family?
We at ONRECORD wouldn’t.
The Voice of the child exposed CAFCASS’ evasiveness.
They asked …
- What training is available to Practitioners on when to ask children to write a letter to the judge?
CAFCASS replied …
“CAFCASS provides induction training events within a practitioner’s first year, which include Casework, Risk and Harm, and Interviewing and Communication Skills. These teach our Family Court Advisers how to use the correct tools (such as My Needs, Wishes and Feelings tools, which includes a child’s letter to the judge) and skills with both parents and children to ensure they focus on all the relevant issues (including the impact of the proceedings on the child within the context of their age and stage of development) in order to achieve the best possible outcome for the children involved.
CAFCASS also has a handbook for practitioners My Needs, Wishes and Feelings: Guidance for practitioners which provide guidance on how to use the tools with children and young people. Our website also provides some brief guidance for practitioners on how to use the tools: ‘Use these tools to facilitate direct work with children and young people. Use these tools as required to gather information during interviews with children and young people or post interview to analyse the evidence and inform recommendations’. CAFCASS has a Private Law Assessment Tools eLearning module on Private Law Assessment Tools, which includes guidance on the use of My Needs, Wishes and Feelings tools. Competent use of tools is covered by supervision processes and the manager quality assurance check of every report that is filed to court.
The use of the My Needs, Wishes and Feelings tools is a matter for the practitioner’s professional judgement. The tools help inform practitioner’s analysis and recommendations to the court and can help a child or young person share their feelings directly with the court.”
The Voice of the Child commented …
CAFCASS rely on a couple of things to protect them from scrutiny and accountability by asserting:
- That their FCAs are “qualified, experienced, and trained”.
- That CAFCASS as an organisation cannot be held to account for any irregularities within a CAFCASS report as “the report is the professional opinion of the individual CAFCASS FCA”.
- That you “cannot complain about the contents of a Cafcass report as this should be dealt with at court”.
- That “It is the court, and not CAFCASS, the parties or children and young people, that makes the final decisions in the family court proceedings”