HOW CAN YOUR BARRISTER HELP YOU AS A LITIGANT IN PERSON
THE ROLE OF CAFCASS (CHILDREN AND FAMILY COURT ADVISORY AND SUPPORT SERVICE) PROCESS
RESPONSIBILITY OF A LITIGANT IN PERSON
Important note: Please note that this information is not intended to be legal advice. You are advised to seek legal advice.
This information provides an overview on the role of Cafcass (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service in the court process, including the safeguarding letter and explaining section 7 reports.
Court is assisted by Cafcass to assess the welfare and safeguarding issues of the child. Court’s duty to the child is paramount under the Children Act 1989.
Cafcass is an independent organization tasked with looking after the interests of children involved in family proceedings. Cafcass work with children and their families and advises the court on what it considers to be in the child’s best interests.
Cafcass also provide assistance when parents who are separating or divorcing can’t agree on arrangements for their children.
The starting point for the court is to ask Cafcass to prepare a report on safeguarding and welfare of the child, which will assist in determining the outcome of a family court dispute.
A Cafcass officer will prepare this report after meeting with both parties and the child (alone where possible and only If the child has sufficient maturity and understanding).
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. 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 the court must take into consideration the ‘welfare checklist’ under the 1989 Children Act, which are as follows:
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.
The welfare checklist is important information which is considered by the court during their decision-making process and helps it come to an overall conclusion based on the welfare needs of the child.
The Cafcass report will be sent to the court, once finalized, and a copy will likely be sent to all parties unless directed otherwise by the court.
The parties have the opportunity to respond to the safeguarding report and in some cases, may wish to challenge the recommendations of the Cafcass report and dispute any factual inaccuracies in the court hearing following the report being finalized.Your barrister can advise you on this.
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.Your barrister can advise you on this.
Family Assistance Order
Family Assistance Orders are set out in the Children Act 1989. A Family Assistance Order is there to provide support, information and signpost the family.
The courts are able to make a Family Assistance Order, if Cafcass can provide the assistance and if so, the court would require a Cafcass officer or an officer from the Local Authority to “advise, assist and (where appropriate) befriend any person named in the court order”.
This officer can then assist on establishing, improving and maintaining contact where a Child Arrangement Order has been made.
The Family Assistance Order can be proposed by the court or by the Cafcass officer involved in the case.
The Cafcass guidance on Family Assistance Orders suggests that the following be considered when deciding whether a Family Assistance Order is suitable:
Whether the child’s welfare and safety would be improved if a Family Assistance Order was in force;
Whether the issues in dispute can be identified and given an achievable target suitable for a Family Assistance Order;
Whether the parents are willing or able to cooperate with the Family Assistance Order;
Whether the parents are able to separate their feelings from the needs of their child to make the Family Assistance Order a suitable arrangement once the order is made;
Whether the aim of the Family Assistance Order could be reached without the support of Cafcass or the Local Authority. For example, whether the parents could work together to understand the child’s needs, develop and maintain contact without intervention;
Whether the child (subject to age and understanding) is able to explain their wishes and feelings in regard to what they would like to happen;
Whether there any other resources which could help the Family Assistance Order succeed for the child and family;
If a report is necessary at the end or during the Family Assistance Order what report would be most appropriate.
These orders are voluntary and require the consent of all parties involved. If a party feels it is unsuitable to have the Family Assistance Order in place the judge should not make the order.
The Family Assistance Order can be used where it is difficult for the family to deal with certain issues without the help of Cafcass or the Local Authority and/or the parents require signposting.
A Family Assistance Order
Cafcass will help set goals to achieve during the period of the Family Assistance Order, and review progress to see whether these goals are being met. These goals can be amended or added to where the officer feels it is necessary to do so.
Cafcass is able to report back to the court any matters relating to the section 8 order. They should make clear the circumstances in which the case may need to be referred back to court.
Cafcass can make recommendations to the court that the section 8 order be varied or discharged if necessary. It may be necessary to report back to the court regarding the progress of the case or to request an extension of the Family Assistance Order.
Cafcass cannot amend or suspend the order themselves; their role is to refer it back to the court to reconsider the order.
Duration of a Family Assistance Order
A Family Assistance Order will be in force for 12 months unless the court specifies otherwise.
Chambers of Helen Alexander-Direct Public Access-Family Court Barrister