Mental health training takes centre stage at Cafcass

Bespoke masterclass shares learning on how to approach cases featuring mental health concerns in the family courts.


Cafcass’ Learning and Development Team commissioned Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust to deliver 22 sessions earlier this year, helping Cafcass practitioners to understand mental health problems, the impact on parenting capacity and the risks posed to the child.

Practitioners were given a comprehensive introduction to the different types of mental health issues parents can have, the associated concerning behaviours and outlined a framework for thinking about these cases.

One highlight of the training was a discussion on the Mental Health Thinking Tool, a guide to help practitioners identify where the key risk and mitigating factors are, any opportunities for the parents to change, and what important information is missing. As explained by one of the trainers, the tool will help practitioners to organise their evidence so they can give a well-reasoned argument to support their clinical ‘instinct’. The severity of the mental health symptoms a parent might have are differentiated on a risk scale from ‘lower’ to ‘higher’ in the tools.

Really useful training, will definitely help confidence when working with parents with mental health issues, and assessing risk they might pose to their child. – feedback from Cafcass Family Court Adviser (FCA).

The training was devised by Dr Sheena Webb, Consultant Clinical Psychologist, and Dr Mike Shaw, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist of Tavistock and Portman. Talking to us about the training, Sheena says practitioners should be clear about whether they have sufficient evidence to avoid making an inaccurate assessment: “Be clear about how reliable the evidence is and how recent it is. Be open when evidence isn’t there. Feel more confident when information is there to say this information is robust.”

Sheena adds that the biggest pitfall practitioners fall into is looking at mental health in isolation. For example, one part of a report might say the mother has mental health issues whereas another part will say the child can’t get to school in the morning, but there’s no mention of the possibility that these two instances are connected in any way.

To help practitioners, Sheena shares some tips to identify the top three things practitioners need to consider when working with parents who have mental health issues.

  1. Step away from the labels that people have been given. Look at how they’re functioning day-to-day.
  2. While mental health professionals are experts in diagnosing and treating, they’re not experts in how those conditions impact upon children, children’s social workers are. Be confident in your knowledge and expertise.
  3. When making decisions to instruct experts, be clear about what questions to ask. Understand what the parent’s understanding is.


Talking of how the masterclass catered to requests from Cafcass practitioners and its success Natalie, Improvement Manager, Cafcass National Improvement Service, says, “When practitioners were surveyed about their learning and development needs for 2017/18, child and family mental health was the most requested topic.

“It was a real pleasure to bring on board Sheena and Mike, who devised a bespoke programme specifically relating to mental health and its implications in the family court, pitching it at the right level for our experienced practitioners. Participant feedback suggests they really hit the right note, including both public and private law perspectives. Now that the training has come to an end, our next step is to think about its legacy and how we can extend the learning within the organisation.”

Both trainers were fabulous. I will be taking away so much learning for my cases – both private and public.  The training has made me think from a different perspective and I will be applying my learning straight away. – feedback from Cafcass Family Court Adviser (FCA).


Dear Anne-Marie,

Thank you for your enquiry. This training was commissioned and designed specifically for Cafcass, for Family Court Advisers completing assessments for the family court – therefore I don’t think it will be appropriate for your service. Thank you for your interest in our training, and if you have any further questions please do not hesitate to contact us through our online service here:

Kind regards,

Web Enquiries

Dear Sir/Madam
i am the Service Manager for the advice and advocacy service at Family Rights Group and was interesting in the training outlined.

We are a charity that supports families, where Children Service is involved or when the case is in the family court. part of the work we do involves advising callers via our advice line and discussion boards. it is essential that the adviser’s are up-to-date on matters relating to child protection, safeguarding, legislation, policy and statutory procedures/duties.

The advisers will specifically need advice around the support they could offer a caller with a mental health condition and if in court or open to CS (i.e. on a Child Protection Plan), how best to work alongside professionals/social workers. They will also need a briefing on any practical ways in which decisions formulated could be challenged and examples of how they can gain access to support. (For example, the court could consider an advocate be appointed to support the parent with MH during proceedings. could you provide details of how this training could be accessed and costs.
Kind Regard – Anne-Marie Sabaroche

CAFCASS must look at the facts not hearsay. Where professionals have provided reports that state that a fathers access to their children will have a positive impact on mental health recovery, please take notice. Ask the children what they want. Please do not favour the primary carer, be fair and implement a shared care plan that meets the needs of both parents and the children. Separation is confusing, upsetting and unsettling for all, please do not use this as an excuse for denying access to children. Ask yourself how you would feel and place yourself in the position of the parent who is being denied access. There should be zero tolerance of discrimination against fathers, mothers, children or mental illness. There are 100s and 1000s of fathers denied access to their children. Many on on waiting lists at contact centres, which are run by charities and volunteers, if it was not for these fathers would not have any access to their children. Children should not be used by either parent. It’s about time something changed forever to put the children and fairness first.

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