What it is
CAFCASS was set up to be the voice of children in the family courts, and it places child welfare at the centre of all court proceedings. Not all family disputes will be overseen by CAFCASS as many families choose to resolve custody issues through family mediation services, but it does offer an important service, accountable to the Ministry of Justice but independent of the courts and the health and education authorities.
What CAFCASS does
It works with families and children where there have been applications to the court regarding custody following parental separation.
It also works with children where applications have been made by local authorities relating to concerns over potential child endangerment.
The role of a CAFCASS advisor
The CAFCASS Family Court Advisor works impartially with separating families to help them agree on the best care for their children. If no agreement is forthcoming, then it is their responsibility to advise the court on appropriate next steps. All advisors use their professional judgement to advise on the best and safest outcome for children. To decide this they will collect evidence and perform safeguarding enquiries, which will involve checks with local and police authorities, and in depth interviews with parents.
CAFCASS court reports
Sometimes CAFCASS advisors are asked to put together a more complete report for the court, and are given a broader remit for producing this. They incorporate into the report the findings of their local and police authority research, their conversations with parents or guardians, and separate interviews with the children concerned and other relevant adults. All of this information is incorporated into a formal court report. The focus of the report is a determination by the advisor as to what represents the best interests of the child, and a clear depiction of the child’s wishes.
Influence of the report
The importance of the report compiled by the CAFCASS advisor cannot be underestimated. In what is otherwise an adversarial system, it represents the only source of independent testimony, and as such is considered to be fair and objective. A judge who goes against the recommendations of the CAFCASS report will need to justify their reasons for doing so.
Social services interventions
In public law cases, where social services have raised concerns about a child, or have contested adoptions, CAFCASS advisors represent the rights and interests of the child, and have the power to appoint a legal representative on their behalf. In these situations they write a report for the court similar to the formal report sometimes required for private custody cases. Again, the report is evidence-based, takes into account the wishes of the child, and reaches a conclusion about what the advisor feels is the best outcome for the child.
Beyond the courtroom
CAFCASS also has a responsibility for organising supervised contact between a child and parent where the court has felt that unsupervised contact might represent a potential threat to the safety of that child. Their website is also a useful source of information and advice for children experiencing family breakdown.
For more information about CAFCASS and the family support services they offer, or to find out more about family mediation services, contact us.