Cafcass publishes updated organisational guidance on working with children through Covid-19
Cafcass has published updated guidance which outlines the arrangements that are currently being made for Family Court Advisers to see children and families, work in Cafcass offices and attend court. The Cafcass guidance has been updated due to the current Government national lockdown restrictions which have been put in place. This guidance will continue to be reviewed and will be updated should there be any changes to the current Government guidance.
Seeing children and families
The guidance explains that for the expected period of restrictions (until 15th February but subject to review) a Family Court Adviser should only see children and families in-person if the meeting is considered to be the only way to assess and understand children’s experiences, wishes, feelings, hopes for the future and therefore the recommendations that are in their best interest. The guidance revises earlier versions in which the default position was to see children in person at least once in the life of their proceedings.
If a Family Court Adviser judges that there must be an ‘in person’ engagement with a child and family, they need to assess that this can be undertaken safely for both themselves and for the child and family with whom they are working.
The professional decision as to whether to see a child in person or remotely remains that of the Family Court Adviser appointed by the court and should be written contemporaneously onto the casefile, explained clearly to the child and family and communicated to the court in all subsequent reports. The risk assessment they make will clearly show the weighing and balancing of judgement in respect of the need to see a child in-person versus the risk we present to them by in-person work and vice versa. The result is likely to be that in most cases the children and families will be seen remotely until the risks from the current new Covid-19 variant are reduced and the restrictions are lifted.
All of our offices are Covid-secure and if required remain open for in-person visits and for other work purposes, government guidance on social distancing must be followed when using this space.
The guidance explains that all open courts are Covid-secure and have risk assessments completed by HMCTS that Cafcass staff can access. It should be a matter of discussion between the Family Court Adviser and the court on the most effective way that their participation can take place with an agreement reached in advance of a hearing.
The courts will have the facility to arrange for evidence to be given remotely. There is significant use of hybrid hearings where the parents or other family members attend in person together with their advocates, while the Family Court Adviser, social workers and other experts attend remotely. There will be cases where it is necessary for the Family Court Adviser to be present in court. The needs of the children Cafcass represents may require that a hearing in person takes place.
Cafcass Chief Executive Jacky Tiotto said:
“In these very frightening times, we must afford the greatest importance to enabling Cafcass to continue to serve the best interests of children and their families. To do this effectively, we need to protect and promote the safety of our staff as well as that of the children and families with whom we work. The decision as to whether to undertake in-person work at this time of national crisis is one that requires our frontline social workers and managers to weigh and balance the needs of children and families alongside their own safety and welfare. These are not easy decisions and we hope that our latest guidance helps to direct and influence these complex judgements in a way that makes them understandable to children, families and the family courts.
“The Covid-19 crisis is having a devastating impact on all children, affecting education, their childhoods, their friendships and their families. Now more than ever, as the crisis continues, we must be mindful and understanding of this. At Cafcass, we are continuing to try to manage record volumes of work, assure ourselves that the quality and effectiveness of what we do remains good or better and protect our colleagues and the children and families we are here to serve. We give daily attention to these things and I am more than grateful that I lead a group of such committed and experienced colleagues who help to make this possible.”