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).

1 Comment

Mental Health comes in a lot of different ways and not all people with Mental Health are incapable of bring up there kids. You can make people Mental Health worse by assuming that’s the problem and removing they kids. Understanding family’s fist is a big step and working with us to get them help.

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