08 October 2019
Cafcass stands for the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. In this article, we explain what Cafcass is, what it does and when it gets involved in Family Law matters.
What Is Cafcass?
The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) is an independent organisation which looks after the interests of any children involved in family law proceedings. The role of Cafcass is to provide judges with advice, information and recommendations during a Children Matter, and help them reach a safe decision for the child or children.
Cafcass Officers, also known as Family Court Advisors, will work with the children and parents to determine what action they believe is the child's best interests. They will then inform the Court of their decision.
When Does Cafcass Get Involved?
If an application is issued to the Court in relation to a child, it is likely Cafcass will become involved.
This would include cases where children are subject to an application for care or supervision proceedings by social services (public law) or in adoption applications. Cafcass also provides assistance when parents who are separating or divorcing cannot agree on custody and access arrangements for their children (private law).
What Does Cafcass Do?
A Court will often ask Cafcass to prepare a report which will assist the outcome of a Family Court dispute. A Cafcass Officer prepares this report after meeting with everyone involved, including the parents and the child. The Cafcass Officer will meet with the child alone if they are old enough to fully understand what's happening. The report will have specific regard to the 'welfare checklist' which provides guidance when considering what is in the best interests of any children.
The Cafcass Officer, and eventually the Judge, will have considered the following when forming their conclusions:
- the wishes and feelings of the child (taking into consideration their age and understanding)
- their physical, emotional and educational needs
- the likely effect on them of any change in their circumstances
- their age, sex, background and any characteristics 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 relevant person, is of meeting their needs
- the range of legal powers available to the Court in the proceedings
This report will then be sent to the Court and to all those involved, unless the Court directs otherwise.
Divorce or Separation
In cases where parents who are separating or getting a divorce cannot agree arrangements for their child, Cafcass will not start by writing a report. In these cases, an application will be made to the Court for a Child Arrangement Order.
Cafcass will carry out safeguarding checks with the Police and Local Authority to find out if there are any safety or welfare risks before the first Court hearing. Cafcass will then conduct telephone interviews with everyone involved so that a safeguarding letter can be drafted.
A safeguarding letter is a short report of the safeguarding checks and any child welfare issues that may have been raised, as well as Cafcass' recommendations for how the case should be dealt with by the Court. In some cases, this will be sent to the child's parents before the hearing, or it may be handed to them at the first hearing.
Cafcass will then work with the parents at the first hearing to reach a safe agreement without further Court proceedings. If this cannot be done, the Court may then order that a full report is drafted.