The moment a Child Arrangements application is issued by the Courts, a copy is not only sent to the Applicant and Respondent, but also an allocated CAFCASS worker. But what is CAFCASS and what is their role in private children’s cases?
CAFCASS, short for Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, is a non-departmental public body in England set up to promote the welfare of children and families involved in family courts. Usually, prior to the First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (‘FHDRA’), the allocated CAFCASS officer will call each party and ascertain the wishes and feelings of each parent. The CAFCASS officer will also, briefly, take note of any concerns each parent has. This conversation is usually conducted over the telephone and a short report/letter is prepared for the Court. This initial report will usually highlight the main issues and any safeguarding issues related to the case and can often set the tone for the progression of the proceedings.
For parties who unfortunately cannot reach an agreement, the Court may Order a CAFCASS officer to prepare a more detailed section 7 report. For this, the CAFCASS officer will typically meet with each party. Should the child and/or children be of an age where they can communicate their wishes and feelings, the CAFCASS officer will consider their input. Each report to the Court will end with a list of recommendations for the Court to consider.
What can CAFCASS consider?
CAFCASS can consider who a child should live with and who should they should spend time with. CAFCASS can also recommend the whether the type of time to be spent should be supervised, supported or community-based and how it should progress. CAFCASS will use the Welfare Checklist as a guide to determine their recommendations. The Welfare Checklist is set out in the main legislation which covers children matters, i.e., The Children Act 1989, it sets out the matters which should be considered by the court when making decisions which affect a child´s upbringing.
- a. the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned (considered in the light of his age and understanding);
- b. his physical, emotional and educational needs;
- c. the likely effect on him of any change in his circumstances;
- d. his age, sex, background and any characteristics of his which the court considers relevant;
- e. any harm which he has suffered or is at risk of suffering;
- f. how capable each of his parents, and any other person in relation to whom the court considers the question to be relevant, is of meeting his needs;
- g. the range of powers available to the court under this Act in the proceedings in question.
How much weight do CAFCASS’ recommendations have on my case?
Unless the parties involved can reach an agreement, it is the Judge who makes the final decision. However, the Judge will have the CAFCASS officer’s recommendations in mind when making a final decision. This is on the basis that your CAFCASS officer is fair and impartial with the sole objective of seeking a result that has the child’s best interests in mind.
What if I do not agree with CAFCASS’ report and/or recommendations?
Everyone wants to believe that they know what’s best for their children. So, what happens when you believe the person entrusted with commenting on your case seems to be ignoring your concerns or favouring the other party?
Before you dispute any and all the report made by your CAFCASS officer, remember that the proceedings are not for the benefit of either party, consider whether the report is in the best interests of the child.
It is important to remember that a fact or allegation is not made true by mere sympathy of your CAFCASS officer. Key findings are a matter to be dealt with by the Judge and can only be relied upon once they have been founded.
However, if you believe that your CAFCASS officer has failed to address all your concerns or has failed to have your child’s best interest in mind, you could prepare a statement in response, where you address each point carefully and thoroughly. You may also get the opportunity to cross-examine your CAFCASS officer about their report at a hearing.
Ultimately, you and CAFCASS should have a shared goal – to seek the best outcome possible for your child. It would not be beneficial to waste energy fighting a CAFCASS officer purely on the basis of pride. CAFCASS officers are reasonable and logical in their recommendations.