So you are in involved in Family Court Proceedings and CAFCASS have been asked to prepare a report to assist the court.
Who or what is CAFCASS? CAFCASS stands for Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. They represent children in family court cases in England and Wales. Their duty is to safeguard and promote the welfare of children going through the family justice system, putting children’s’ needs, wishes and feelings first, making sure that children’s voices are heard in the process so that decisions are made in their best interests. CAFCASS workers are qualified and experienced social workers used to dealing with vulnerable children and their families. They are also required to have particular expertise in safeguarding and be able to engage with children of all ages.
They are effectively the eyes and ears of the court for the purposes of ascertaining what is in the best interests of the child involved in one of several types of proceedings; divorce and separation, where parents are unable to agree arrangements for their children, care proceedings (also known as Public law Proceedings) where there are issues regarding the safety and well being of a child (and during which children may be removed from or returned to their families) and during adoption proceedings. CAFCASS cannot offer legal advice and will not advise on any issues raised.
What should you expect from your visit from CAFCASS? In order to hear from everyone involved in the proceedings CAFCASS will visit each of the parents/ parties at home. If children are of school age they will usually be seen there.
What can you do to prepare for a visit from CAFCASS?
- Ensure that your home is clean, tidy and welcoming.Where there are very young children at issue your home needs to be child friendly with appropriate safety measures in place e.g. stair-gates, etc.If overnight contact is being sought the CAFCASS officer will want to see where the child will be sleeping.Give some thought to making the bedroom warm and cosy with appropriate bedding, toys and books for the child.
- During the interview, remain calm, friendly, positive and polite.It is important that you remain child-focused. Explain what you would like the court to order in terms of where you want the child to live and how you want contact to be arranged.
- Be clear, calm and concise.Make some notes in advance to remind you of the points you would like to make during your appointment.Describe to the CAFCASS officer what your family life with your child is like and what you and your child like to do together, mentioning any special routines, activities or interests you and your child share.
- Having some photographs on display of you and your child is also very helpful.
- Try not to exaggerate, or criticise your former partner personally.Always tell the truth and never make false allegations.
- Don’t speak about your child as if you are his/her only parent. Remember that it is your child’s right to have an ongoing relationship with both parents and regular, meaningful contact with the non-resident parent is important unless there are serious safeguarding issues, which must be reported.
Once the court appointed CAFCASS officer has met with all parties to the proceedings (including the child, whose wishes and feelings will be considered as a paramount consideration – the older the child the more weight will be attached to his/ her wishes), a report will be prepared for the court with a recommendation as to the appropriate order to make in all the circumstances.
Whilst a report by CAFCASS is persuasive it is not binding on the court. However, it is relatively unusual for a Judge to depart from a recommendation from CAFCASS and he/ she would be required to provide a reason for doing so.
In the event that you are unhappy with the report recommendations you can make this known and raise this during the court proceedings.
Should you require advise or information regarding this or any aspect of family law, please do not hesitate to contact the Family Team at GC Solicitors on 01462 483800.