As a children solicitor, I hate abbreviations. I think they confuse parents and make children court proceedings seem more complicated than they really are.
If you are thinking about applying to the family court for a custody or access order (called in court language a child arrangements order ), you will come across the abbreviation ’’CAFCASS’’.
CAFCASS stands for ‘’the children and family court advisory and support service’’. I think most people would agree that is a bit of a mouthful.
A CAFCASS officer is called a variety of names, including family court reporter and CAFCASS worker or reporter. Many of the names are interchangeable, adding to parents’ confusion.
What is a CAFCASS Report?
A CAFCASS report is a report that is ordered by a family judge for use in children court proceedings.
The CAFCASS report can also be referred to as a ‘’section 7 report’’. This abbreviation relates to the section of the Children Act 1989 that authorises the production of reports.
Who Can Ask for a CAFCASS Report?
Many parents think that in all children court proceedings a CAFCASS report is prepared or that they can ask for a report. A CAFCASS report is not necessary in every children court case. Furthermore, only a family court judge can decide if a report should be obtained and how detailed the report should be.
A judge can ask that a CAFCASS report look into the children’s wishes and feelings or the judge can ask for a more detailed report asking the CAFCASS report writer to make recommendations about what he or she thinks would be best for the children.
A parent or their solicitor can ask a judge to order the preparation of a CAFCASS report at a first directions hearing of a children application. If you would like a CAFCASS report, careful representations have to be made as to why a report should be prepared.
If a judge does not follow the recommendations in a CAFCASS report, the judge has to explain why the recommendations have not been followed.
What Goes Into a CAFCASS Report?
A CAFCASS report writer will decide whom they need to speak to in order to prepare their report.
A CAFCASS report writer will speak to both parents and will normally speak to the children who are the subject of the court proceedings. A CAFCASS report writer may also speak to a nursery worker, teacher or other relevant professional.
A CAFCASS report writer will say what they think the child’s wishes and feelings are and may say what parenting arrangements would, in their opinion, be in the child’s best interests.
If facts are disputed, for example whether an incident of domestic violence took place, it is not the job of the CAFCASS report writer to decide whether the incident took place or not. That is the job of the family judge.
How Does a CAFCASS Report Writer Interview a Child?
A CAFCASS report writer’s interview technique will depend on the age and understanding of the child and the family circumstances.
A CAFCASS report writer will not ask a child to decide between parents.
How Long Does a CAFCASS Report Take to Prepare?
The time that a CAFCASS report takes to prepare depends on what the judge asks the CAFCASS report writer to cover in the report and how busy the local CAFCASS service is.
Sometimes a judge will ask a CAFCASS report writer to prepare an interim report, for example on short-term contact arrangements until the final hearing of the children application.
On other occasions a judge may ask for a second CAFCASS report, often referred to as an ‘’addendum report’’.
Does a Judge Have to Agree with the Recommendations in a CAFCASS Report?
A judge does not have to agree with what the CAFCASS report says. However, a CAFCASS report is normally highly influential. In the vast majority of children court applications, the court will make parenting and child arrangements orders as recommended by the CAFCASS report.
For advice about starting or responding to children court proceedings please call Louise Halford on +44 (0) 1477 464020 or email Louise at [email protected]