Cafcass’ role in care proceedings
If a local authority has serious concerns about the safety or welfare of a child, it can apply to the court to take the child into care.
The court will then usually request for Cafcass to become involved in the case. Cafcass’ job is to review the local authority’s plan and ensure that decisions are made in the child’s best interest.
When working with children in respect of public law (care) proceedings, the Cafcass worker is known as a children’s guardian.
The guardian’s most important role is to make sure that local authority arrangements and decisions for and about children protect them, promote their welfare and are in their best interests.
In care proceedings, their job is to make independent enquiries and check the local authority’s care plan to ensure that it protects children, promotes their welfare and is in their best interests. This will include making sure that children are able to live with other family members or people connected to them or to be reunited with their parents if this can be made safe enough and is in their long-term best interest. It is also to let the court know what they think should happen.
What will the guardian do?
The guardian will:
- appoint a solicitor to represent your child;
- advise the court, at the first court hearing, on the work that needs to be done before it can make a decision about your child’s future and whether other independent professionals may help the court with advice, e.g. a doctor or psychologist;
- talk to your child to find out their wishes and feelings (where they are able to share this), and tell the court during the case what they think is best for your child, including their stated wishes and feelings.
From the start, they will be analysing the local authority assessment and care plan to make sure it is right for your child. If they disagree, they will propose an alternative.
Who will the Cafcass guardian speak to?
The guardian will talk to you and may talk to other people who know your family, such as teachers, social workers and health visitors. This may include attending meetings about your child and reading Local Authority files and documents.
What will happen in the end?
It is the court’s job to decide what will happen to your child and the judge will listen to everyone involved in the case including you, your solicitor, the local authority social worker and the guardian before making a decision.
The guardian’s role is to recommend what he or she thinks is best for your child based on their assessment.
If the judge is satisfied that it is safe to do so, children will go back home. For others, the local authority will find them a new home. That may be with other members of their family or with friends, or it may be with a new family.
Throughout the whole process the guardian will try to answer any questions you may have about the case, although they cannot give you legal advice. You have a right, free of charge, to get specialist legal advice through a solicitor.