This page explains the role of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service in the court process, including the safeguarding checks that they carry out and explaining section 7 reports.
Cafcass is an independent organisation created to look after the interests of children involved in family proceedings. It works with children and their families, and then advises the courts on what it considers to be in the children's best interests. Cafcass only works in the family courts.
Family Court Advisers become involved in cases when children are subject to an application for care or supervision proceedings by social services (public law) or in an adoption applications. Cafcass also helps when parents who are separating or divorcing can't agree on arrangements for their children (private law).
Often the court will ask Cafcass to prepare a report. A Family Court Adviser will prepare this report usually after seeing both the parties separately and with the children involved in the case, they may also wish to see the children on their own.
When writing a report the Cafcass officer will have specific regard to what is known as the 'welfare checklist'.
This is not a checklist in the traditional sense but instead acts as guidance when considering what is in the best interests of any child(ren). The law is clear, that when making any decisions concerning a child the welfare of that child shall be the paramount consideration.
The Cafcass officer, and eventually the Judge, will have considered the following when forming their conclusions:
- the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned (considered in the light of his age and understanding)
- his physical, emotional and educational needs
- the likely effect on him of any change in his circumstances
- his age, sex, background and any characteristics of his which the court considers relevant
- any harm which he has suffered or is at risk of suffering
- 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
- the range of powers available to the court under this Act in the proceedings in question.
That is not to say that either the Cafcass officer or the Judge will go through and tick things off of the checklist, but rather they will use the above as a guide to inform their decision making and come to an overall conclusion based on the child(ren)'s welfare.
The Cafcass report will be sent to the court, once finalised, and a copy will likely be sent to all parties unless directed otherwise by the court.
The parties can argue against the recommendations of the Cafcass report and dispute any factual inaccuracies in the court hearing following the report being finalised. Furthermore, the Cafcass officer who conducted the report can be asked to attend the court and be subject to cross-examination.
If a party intends to contest the content of a Cafcass report, it is important to frame a clear, concise argument and provide evidence where possible in support of their position.