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This blog post will explore the role of CAFCASS in private law children proceedings and will answer some of the most common questions asked by our clients.
Who are CAFCASS?
CAFCASS is an abbreviated name for ‘The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service’. They are an independent body who represent the interests of children who are subject to ongoing court proceedings in England.
What is the role of CAFCASS?
The role of CAFCASS is to safeguard children within court proceedings by advising the court as to what arrangement would be in the children’s best interests. CAFCASS, therefore, play an essential role in ensuring that the voices of children are heard within proceedings.
CAFCASS can also make provision for the children to be represented in the case if they feel this is necessary.
How does CAFCASS carry out their initial safeguarding checks?
(i) Reviewing Applications
CAFCASS will receive a copy of every application that is made to the court under the Children Act 1989. CAFCASS will then review your application to determine whether there are any concerns as to your child’s safety. For example, it might be that the initial application indicates the presence of domestic violence, and CAFCASS will want to ensure that appropriate consideration is given to this matter.
(ii) Police and Local Authority checks
CAFCASS will also take appropriate steps to see whether either party or the children have had any involvement with the Local Authority or the Police. CAFCASS will want to determine whether these external bodies have any concerns in respect of the welfare of your children and alert the court to any risks that are present.
(iii) Speaking to both parties
CAFCASS will also want to speak to both parties to determine whether either party views that their child is at risk of any harm. CAFCASS will therefore contact each party separately to arrange a brief telephone interview.
The conversation should cover any concerns you might have in respect of the child’s safety such as domestic abuse or alcohol or drug abuse. You should not expect CAFCASS to be offering any advice or opinions as to the contact arrangement moving forward during this call. It is simply an information-gathering exercise.
Please do not hesitate to contact us if you feel concerned about your telephone interview with CAFCASS.
What is a safeguarding letter?
A safeguarding letter is a short report produced by CAFCASS which summarises the outcome of their safeguarding checks. If CAFCASS have identified any welfare concerns, these will be raised to the court via the safeguarding letter.
The safeguarding letter will be filed with the court at least three days before the first hearing on the matter, known as the First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (the FHDRA). The parties will also receive a copy of the safeguarding letter at this time unless to do so will put the child or one of the parties at risk.
If CAFCASS conclude that there are no welfare issues, then their involvement in the proceedings will usually end at this stage, and the safeguarding letter will state this to be the case. Alternatively, CAFCASS might recommend that a section 7 report is necessary to deal with the number of safeguarding issues that have been identified through their preliminary investigation.
What is a section 7 report?
Section 7 reports can consider a variety of key matters such as where the child should live, how much time the child should spend with each parent, and whether the child’s needs can be appropriately met by both parents.
It is also possible for the parties to elect for an independent social worker (ISW) to be instructed to prepare the section 7 report, but the ISW will require a fee to be paid.
In order to make such recommendations, CAFCASS will usually need to spend time with both parties and observe their contact with the children. CAFCASS can also speak to the children directly in order to obtain a better understanding of their wishes and views.
How can we help?
If you have been contacted by CAFCASS in respect of upcoming children proceedings then please do not hesitate to contact us. Our specialist team of solicitors are highly experienced in dealing with child arrangements matters.
Rosa Schofield is a Solicitor in our London office based in Marylebone.