Cafcass publishes new assessment framework for private law cases

We have developed a new assessment framework to support our practitioners in assessing the harmful impact of a range of complex case factors on the children we work with in private law cases.

The Child Impact Assessment Framework (CIAF) is a structured framework that sets out how children may experience parental separation and how this can be understood and assessed at Cafcass to inform better outcomes for children. It draws on our experience and knowledge from around 40,000 private law cases each year involving around 60,000 children.

The CIAF will help our Family Court Advisers (FCAs) in the timely identification and accurate assessment of what is happening for each child, and to provide consistent and balanced reporting to court when advising it on what we consider to be in the child’s best interests. The CIAF aims to promote a common understanding of contentious issues and will help FCAs to retain focus on the impact on the child when these issues arise.

The CIAF brings together new and existing guidance and tools into four guides which our private law practitioners can use to assess the impact on the child of different case factors, including:

  • domestic abuse
  • harmful conflict
  • child refusal or resistance to spend time with one of their parents, which includes guidance on parental alienation
  • other forms of harmful parenting, such as substance misuse or mental health difficulties.

One of the guides the CIAF incorporates is our award-winning Domestic Abuse Practice Pathway, which helps our FCAs to assess the impact of domestic abuse on the child and any future risk.

Where domestic abuse features, FCAs will prioritise the assessment of domestic abuse using the pathway and check that any risk has been adequately and safely considered, reduced or resolved before assessing the other case factors, such as harmful conflict or alienating behaviours.

All private law practitioners will receive mandatory training in applying the framework. The training is due to be rolled out across Cafcass service areas from this month, with all practitioners expected to be trained by March 2019. As it is a development of our existing guidance, some of the issues will already be addressed in practice in current cases.

CIAF was informed by an internal advisory group of 40 practitioners, led by Cafcass’ Assistant Director and Principal Social Worker, Sarah Parsons, as well as input from sector experts and family justice partners.

Sarah Parsons commented: “I’m delighted that our guides and tools are now available for Cafcass staff and all interested parties to read and use. They will further improve how our practitioners assess private law cases, and also help our family justice partners and the court to recognise and act on children’s experiences when families are in private law proceedings.”

Cafcass’ Chief Executive, Anthony Douglas, added: “We hope that our new assessment framework will set the standard across agencies in England for assessing the impact on children of all the issues involved at the heavy end of family breakdown. In time, we envisage that it could be accepted as an international standard. There is also potential for its future application in contact disputes in public law cases and we will be working with partner agencies across the family justice system about that.”

Please see the Child Impact Assessment Framework webpage for further information.


Are any Cafcass assessors in Wales trained to identify parental alienation, and report appropriately to the family court? If not, who could deliver an expert report to prevent further damage?

Hi Norman, the tools within the guides and the guides themselves have been published on the site. Please click the links within the diagram to see them. Thanks, Cafcass

Any programme that put the needs of children first is to be applauded. I have every confidence that with excellent leadership the whole of Cafcass Family Court Advisors will approach this new programme from a mother/father balanced viewpoint where time to assess the impact of any breakdown on children and time with each parent/resident parent takes into account that children need both parents in their lives for their sake and the future of their impact in society into the future. Anthony Douglas speaks very well on these issues when I was last in his company.

This looks really positive and will encourage consistency of practice. I’ve not seen the tools themselves It would be helpful if Cafcass could consider the preparation of guides for parents and advisers to better help participation in assessments by a commentary on the tools. This would I hope lead to better participation so that all involved can contribute productively. Can the tools themselves be published please?

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