Cafcass responds to the publication of the Report from the Ministry of Justice Expert Panel on Harm in the Family Courts

The publication of the report from the Ministry of Justice Expert Panel on Harm in the Family Courts makes a significant contribution to the necessary and continuing debate about how to improve services and support for children and families who have been affected by or who live with domestic abuse. It is now both critical and urgent that there is reform to the family justice system, its culture and its statutory framework, so that the combined efforts of all professionals are more effective in helping children and their families. Cafcass is committed to its role in reform through membership of the Family Justice Board, the Family Justice Implementation Group and a new internal learning and improvement board that will be established to oversee continuous development in professional practice. We also know we have more to do to improve our practice in response to feedback and we will do everything possible to continue to operate a service that prioritises children’s safety, their voices and their hopes for their futures.

The report has found that the family justice system is underfunded and needs investment in order to address the recommendations so that it can improve the ways in which it meets the needs of the children and families who rely on it. We agree that the imperfect system doesn’t always allow our social workers the opportunity to spend enough time with children to fully understand their experiences and hopes for the future. We often meet children at pivotal moments in their lives, when their future is being decided by the family court, and it is important that we have enough time to prioritise their voices and needs, taking full account of the circumstances of their families and those connected to them.

Cafcass was not invited to be a member of the Panel and we do not agree that the criticisms in the report reflect our current practice. But our task now is to learn from this feedback and to work collaboratively with families and specialist organisations to provide support that is considered more effective and which clearly promotes the safety and welfare of children at all times.

Social work is challenging and highly skilled work, which involves assessments of risk and uncertainty that have to take account of the need for children to grow up with and experience a positive family life with their parents, carers and family networks. Our practitioners undertake assessments in a diverse array of family circumstances, and carefully consider the potential for a range of factors to influence the reporting and interpretation of allegations of abusive behaviour– for example same sex couples, people with mental or physical health conditions, or the contribution of heritage or faith. The information available to practitioners and that informs their assessments and subsequent judgements is sometimes limited and often contradictory. Our job is to understand the impact on children and to make a recommendation to the family court about the risk of harm from conflict or abuse balanced against the benefits – where it is safe and in their best interests – of a relationship with both parents. Fundamental to any recommendations we make are the wishes and feelings expressed by children themselves.

We have a clear framework in place to help our social work practitioners to do this and to advise the courts on their findings. Our social work practitioners receive specialist training in assessing domestic abuse and have access to learning material and programmes developed in collaboration with organisations with specialist knowledge of domestic abuse.

We are clear that we have more to learn and we are committed to action as a result of the report’s findings. Our first step is to establish a learning and improvement board, involving external partners, who will oversee a learning review and action plan that will set out practice and service improvements for children experiencing domestic abuse or other forms of harm. We want to listen much harder to feedback from children and families about what we do well and where we need to improve.

We agree that there is a need for greater consistency among family justice professionals about how different factors are best balanced, and that joint training would be one way of achieving this. There is also a need for improved coordination not only between family justice professionals, but with specialist organisations providing therapeutic and other support that will address the causes as well as deal with the consequences of domestic abuse in all its forms. The challenge of domestic abuse cannot be dealt with only through a legal process and there is a need for complementary interventions and services to be more consistently available.

We continue to support the collation of meaningful data to help Cafcass and the family justice system improve its understanding about the needs of the children and families with whom we work. We will continue to play an active role to facilitate robust independent research that improves our understanding about how the system is operating and where reform is needed. A summary of our case data is available to researchers through the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory data platform at Swansea University which stores information securely and anonymously, and ensures access is granted only after a rigorous approvals process.

Cafcass Chief Executive, Jacky Tiotto said:

“The publication of the Harm Panel report adds greatly to our understanding of the experiences of children and families who live with domestic abuse and seek the help of the family court. Some of the testimony is difficult to read, but we know it will have been even more difficult to share and we are grateful to everyone – and especially the children and adults – who have contributed to this report. Our commitment is to learn from their experiences and to improve the help we give in response. I am sorry to the families and children who have reported that we have not been helpful to them and I hope that our developing family forum eventually provides a means through which we can listen, learn and repair together.

“Everyone here at Cafcass wants to make a positive and lasting difference to the lives and futures of the children we have the privilege to meet and to help. The feedback that we regularly hear tells us that we achieve this for many of the 140,000 children we support each year. But it matters to us to know each and every time when we haven’t been helpful. We will be working hard this year to prioritise listening, reflecting and improving our practice in response to feedback and we will do everything possible to continue to operate a service that prioritises children’s safety, their voices and their hopes for their futures.

“This report has found that the failings identified are systemic, and that reform of the family justice system is urgently needed to address them. We agree and are committed to working alongside our system partners to make this change a reality.”

The Family Justice Young People’s Board said:

“The Family Justice Young People’s Board welcomes any research that will improve practice and lead to better outcomes for children and young people.  Domestic abuse is one of the key priorities for the FJYPB this year and will be the basis for a number of webinars that we shall be running in the autumn. We think it is very important to consider the voice of the child within domestic abuse cases in the family court. Over the coming weeks we will looking at the report in detail,  we will offer comments on the key findings and we will consider how we can contribute to developments and changes in practice across agencies. We look forward to exploring how we can ensure that children and young people who have experienced domestic abuse are kept at the centre of practice.”


Hi .. very surprised to see no comments, and more worryingly see you say the report doesn’t represent your current practice. As a children and family therapist for the past 12 years, I have seen the changes in CAFCASS interventions from broadly knowledgeable and practical, listening to children as you would expect, to now as a general rule having interventions and reports showing the majority of workers out of their depth, not understanding the dynamics of abusive realtionships and not listening to children. This mirrors my experience working within an LA and now as a self employed, Relate trained therapist. Info frequently not shared with the schools the children attend leaving them and myself ( and colleagues) blindsided. I realise resources are an issue, but the experienced staff I used to work with are badly missed, and the ones left are not generally well trained and supported
Take your heads out of the sand!

The temptation to offer support to this statement was extinguished immediately.

Cafcass officers are NOT trained, the DATA proves this, less than 30 percent have any official training on psychological manipulation.

The DSM-5 diagnisis of psychological abuse V995.51 and the transferred persecutory delusion diagnosos ICD-10-F24 ( filie a deux) .
Are alien words to the under qualified staff.

Social workers are not educated enough to make any sort of assessment, let alone after 45 minutes on the phone.

The psychological damage caused by the massive alienation problem caused by narcissistic pathological parenting is immense.

Soon enough, this ignorance, will be as easy to prove as a physical injury.

We are developing methods of tracking trauma in the brain, we will see its pathway, under direct questioning and will be able to identify the EXACT event that triggers the harm, and therefore, the perpetrator.
Section 34.4 applications made simply because Cafcass are inept is a trauma children will be able to litigate against for damages in the very near future, like paedophilia in the 80s it will be outed soon enough.

Cafcass are not fit to be around children, no-one, no one at all can make life changing decisions in 45.mins and especially when unqualified.

The CIAF is an unknown document to many, and the accountability of Cafcass is non existent.

This needs to change before anything else.

Other professionals should be listened to. When an idva and/or domestic abuse specialists state the abuse IS continuing then you SHOULD listen to them. Stop re-victimising mothers! Stop blaming the mother and forcing them to have mental health assessments when they are a VICTIM of abuse!! When legal aid is granted then clearly this evidences abuse is happening! Abusers are skilled manipulators. No father with any history of abuse should be given residency of any child! You need to work with womens aid!!

I think reform has been well over due in cafcass especially when very young babies and children cannot voice their views, and cafcass has , in my experience not taken into account the concerns of the “fleeing” parent of domestic violence, over and over I have heard the courts make a decision based on reports submitted by cafcass , the judge claiming “because the parent is at risk of violence, does not mean the absent parent will harm the child if unsupervised contact is granted “ and then only to find , like myself , that your child is over chastised in unsupervised contact as a baby , although contact stopped and police and social workers involved, and perpetrator advised to take the matter back to court ( as only supervised contact offered in the interim to safeguard child) the damage to that child is already done , and the perpetrator stating if it has to be supervised he doesn’t want any contact ! I , for one can vouch for the emotional trauma of the event and the following 12 years has had on my child , but I count myself lucky that my child only suffers with anxiety over her experience , as many parents fair much worse as in the death of a child when contact deems “in the best interest of a child” as an ex social worker , I was horrified that I could stand up in a court of law , and give evidence at why a child should not remain with abusive parents with whom I worked with to protect them , but when it came down to my own child I could not protect them , from a partner I had ended a relationship with when 8 weeks pregnant due to domestic abuse issues , I promptly resigned from career feeling I could protect other people’s child but not my own . So I’m watching the progress of these changes with optimism, kind regards Julie

Dear Cafcass Chief Executive, Jacky Tiotto, if as you say “Everyone here at Cafcass wants to make a positive and lasting difference to the lives and futures of the children we have the privilege to meet and to help”, how are you going to achieve this?

My experience of your organisation is that your officers are not skilled, cannot assess risk, are unable to produce meaningful reports, which are often flawed. The practice of your officers can be underhand. I’m generalising of course as I’m sure it doesn’t apply to every officer, but if it applies to just one, it’s one too many. As a result one child could be put at risk because of that one flawed report, and I know for a fact that has happened. You certainly make a lasting difference to the lives and future of children, but too often not in a good way.

Cafcass has chosen not to agree that the criticisms in the report reflect your current practice. Some people might see that as a very arrogant response, particularly as there is ample evidence to show that your organisation is certainly not “The Voice Of The Child”.

Children are put in the hands of abusers because of flawed Cafcass reports. Some of those children get harmed, physically or psychologically. Does the buck stop with you? If so, that surely makes you culpable.

How often has the good parent tried to protect their child(ren) only to be accused of parental alienation, resulting in their child(ren) being taken away?

How can you and the parents of abused children work together to improve the way Cafcass operates?

I’m sure thousands of us look forward to seeing how you are going to resolve this.

I’m sure many of us would be happy to work with you to improve the way Cafcass operates.


I see no mention of the fact Cafcass have for 10 years only commissioned Domestic Abuse Perpetrator Programmes for men, ignoring that 90% of children end up living with the mother and mothers are just as abusive towards children as fathers (NSPCC). Cafcass is discriminating against men on the basis of their sex and has failed in its public sector equality duty. Discrimination on the basis of sex is unlawful, you are breaking the law.

What do you propose to do about your unlawful discrimination?

I was very pleased to have come across this article this week. I am currently going through a child arrangement order and have had numerous contact with cafcass. I am appalled at the inaccuracies in the section 7 report that has been compiled in my case.
I am not impressed that a magistrate will make such important decision based on false information. How can that possibly be legal. However I am told it is not wise to go against a cafcass worker.
There is so much documentation mirroring my concerns that it is unbelievable that it still goes on.
My ex is still able to manipulate the court process and carcass despite evidence of him being abusive to me and our son. This evidence was submitted, he has not cooperated with the court orders from the beginning and yet the cafcass officer seemd to have not accounted for this in the report.
Now our sons future is going to be decided based on blatant discrepancies.
Domestic abuse is extremely distressing and difficult to move on from and more so when the court system do not believe or support the victims.

You ‘do not agree that the criticisms in the report reflect our current practice’ just shows how out of touch you are. You ruined mine and my childrens lives, took everything away and handed them to their abuser. You cover up abuse, have no understanding of abuse, ignore evidence, tell victims including children to ‘move on’, when children report back abuse after you order contact you blame the safe parent, not the abuser! You display all the signs of being abusers-gaslighting, crazymaking, denial, invalidating, support the abuse/r. The cruelty you inflict on mothers and children is beyond belief.

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