Family Court Welfare Reports – CAFCASS
The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) has published two new protocols setting out how they intend to carry out meetings in the process of preparing their reports.
Since COVID-19, they have been undertaking meetings via video link or telephone. Like many other organisations, they are now considering how they will operate as the country moves out of lockdown but in consideration of the ongoing pandemic.
The protocol explains that CAFCASS will be using both remote video technology and in-person visits to speak with children. The guidance says that the judgement about whether in-person or remote work is in the best interest of the child will be made by the Family Court Adviser, who will make sure that the rationale is understood by the child and their family or carer.
CAFCASS represents children in family court cases in England. They independently advise the family courts about what is safe for children, and in their best interests. They are required to put the children’s needs, wishes and feelings first, making sure that children’s voices are heard at the heart of the family court setting. They are independent of the courts, social services, education and health authorities and all similar agencies.
Their involvement comes at a very early stage in Private Law children proceedings (e.g – child arrangements, residence or contact issues). Before the first hearing CAFCASS will communicate with the parties to inform the contents of a safeguarding letter. The CAFCASS officer will obtain confirmation of whether any of the parties have criminal records and are known to social services. They will conduct a telephone interview with all the parties, report back and make recommendations. Their initial letter is usually 2-3 pages. As a result of those enquiries, CAFCASS could recommend that the Court directs a fuller welfare report. Alternatively, if the family is known to social services, they may be asked to provide a report. They will not usually need to meet the parties or the children initially but will probably need to do so if a full (section 7) report is directed. If a fuller report is requested, detailed enquiries will be made of the schools and they will likely interview family members and may watch interaction between the child and parents.
CAFCASS offices will be re-opening from 27 July 2020 so that family court advisers can safely meet with children to understand their needs, wishes and feelings and to enable them to make recommendations to the family court.
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