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Family Courts Following Recommendations in Welfare Reports in 9 out of 10 Cases
Specialist Family Lawyer Jennifer Allen explains the role of the Children And Family Court Advisor and Support Service (CAFCASS) in Court proceedings relating to disputes regarding children (or more commonly known as custody/access disputes).
If Court proceedings are issued in Children Act cases, if the Court considers it appropriate, the Court can order an independent child and family reporter (CAFCASS Officer) to assist the Court by investigating and reporting back to the Court to assist in resolving a dispute and to help the Court in making a decision.
The CAFCASS Officer is independent of all the parties in the case. The role of CAFCASS is to safeguard and promote the welfare of children involved in family Court proceedings. CAFCASS advises the Court so that the decisions the Court makes are intended to be in the best interests of the children as opposed to what the mother/father would like to achieve. CAFCASS only work in the family Court. CAFCASS Officers are qualified in social working and are experienced at working with children and families. The welfare of a child (or children) is their primary concern when investigating and reporting.
In general, the CAFCASS Officer is asked to report on the welfare of children, or in certain circumstances the children’s wishes and feelings, in order to help families reach a sensible arrangement for their children.
During investigation a CAFCASS Officer has a positive duty investigate all of the family circumstances and this may involve not only meeting all the parties to the case and the children, in certain circumstances, but making enquiries of relevant agencies such as police, health, local authority and schools.
In addition to their general investigative powers, the CAFCASS Officer will meet the parties (parents/grandparents/person with care of the relevant children/children) and, as stated, in some circumstances the children. Meetings can take place at CAFCASS offices, prior to the first Court hearing, at parties homes or in schools. In certain circumstances the Court may decide a full welfare report on all the children’s circumstances is required.
Upon completion of investigation, it is the CAFCASS Officers responsibility to make recommendations to the Court in their report as to what they consider to be in the child’s or children’s best interest. The Court then takes those recommendations, considers the parties positions and can thereafter make a decision in a case. It has now been reported that family Judge’s follow the recommendations of the Court welfare reports in 9 out of 10 cases. A study commissioned by the Children And Family Court Advisors and Support Service shows that the reports of family Court advisors were accepted in just over 75% of cases. That figure has now risen to 90% of cases in which there was to be a further review by the Court. In a sample of 170 randomly selected private law residence/contact cases there was full acceptance of the report recommendations and the final Order in 107 of those cases (63%). In a further 20 cases (12%) there was acceptance of recommendation subject to Court review. In only 5 cases the Court did not choose to follow the recommendations of the report. 30 of those cases were found to be not applicable because either the application made by one or other party was withdrawn, dismissed or adjourned, or a report was never completed. This suggests that the Court considers the recommendations made by CAFCASS Officers very seriously. It is therefore important to appreciate that the CAFCASS Officer has an extremely influential role and is in affect the eyes and ears of the Court.
If you are involved in Court proceedings relating to children and require advice regarding proceedings please contact Jennifer Allen or one of our family team of solicitors and lawyers at Hughes Paddison.