What to expect from Cafcass
Cafcass works with families only at the request of the court. After the court has received the application from either you or the other parent or carer or other adult, the court will usually refer the application to us.
We then provide the court with information to support a safe decision about the arrangements for your children. We will try to help you and the other adult (who is called a ‘party’) reach a safe agreement about your children. The legal process is set out in the Child Arrangements Programme 2014.
What does Cafcass do?
Before the first hearing, we will usually do the following:
- Safeguarding checks: We carry out checks with the police and the local authority to find out whether there are any known safety or welfare risks to your children.
- Telephone interview: In most cases, we phone you and the other party to find out if you have any concerns about the safety and welfare of your children. You are unlikely to have a home visit before the first hearing. Only people who are parties to the court proceedings will be interviewed and we do not speak with or meet children at this stage in proceedings. If you want to submit a statement from a person who is not named on the application, then you must send it to the court, not Cafcass. This phone interview may be made close to the hearing date, so don’t worry if you don’t hear from us immediately after receiving our welcome letter.
- Safeguarding letter: At least three days before the first court hearing we will provide the court with a short report on the outcomes of the safeguarding checks and any child welfare issues raised by you and the other party: this is known as a safeguarding letter.
The court may ask Cafcass to provide an update to a safeguarding letter if information, such as the safeguarding checks, is unavailable at the time of the first hearing.
At the first hearing
A Family Court Adviser (FCA) will work with both parties at the first hearing.
If it has not been possible for Cafcass to have completed the telephone interview with you or the other party, the FCA will ensure any outstanding safeguarding issues are discussed, assessed, and that the findings are made available to the court. The FCA will discuss the content of the safeguarding letter with the court and will advise on next steps.
If there are no child safeguarding concerns, the FCA will try to help you and the other party reach a safe agreement without further court proceedings. This could include completing a Parenting Plan.
If you and the other party can reach an agreement, and the court is satisfied that this is safe and in your children’s best interests, it may be possible to end the process at this stage by making a ‘consent order’.
However, if you are not able to agree, or there are concerns about the welfare or safety of your children, the court may:
- order you and the other party to take part in a Separated Parents Information Programme (SPIP);
- refer you and the other party to a mediation assessment meeting or ask us to help you reach an agreement;
- order a ‘finding of fact’ hearing if disputed allegations have been made that might affect the outcome of the court proceedings, such as of domestic abuse.
- Where there are concerns about domestic abuse, or domestic abuse is found by the court to have taken place, the court may order a party to take part in a domestic abuse perpetrator programme (DAPP);
- ask us to carry out more detailed work with your family and to write a report about your children’s welfare (known as a section 7 report).
Help and support
Throughout the whole process the FCA will be able to answer any questions you may have, although Cafcass is unable to give you legal advice.
You may wish to get advice from a solicitor or from some of the organisations listed on our resources for parents and carers page.
You may also find this guidance note by The Transparency Project helpful; it takes parents and professionals through the main aspects of how domestic abuse is addressed in the family court.
Child contact centres
This page summarises how Child Contact Centres work under normal conditions. There is more information about how the National Association of Child Contact Centres (NACCC) is working to enable contact to take place safely online on their website and on their Facebook page.
Please note that Cafcass only work with contact centres which are NACCC accredited, meeting their standards for service delivery and management.
Child contact centres are there for children to maintain or re-establish contact with a parent, other relative or another person important in their life. They are neutral places and provide a valuable service in allowing contact to take place which otherwise might not happen. There are two types of child contact services – supported and supervised.
Supported child contact – these are often sessions held at weekends in community centres or church halls and several families use the centre at the same time. Staff and volunteers are available to assist families and they help create a comfortable atmosphere. They can also support with handover arrangements, so parents do not have to meet. The staff are completely impartial and are not there to monitor or write reports about the contact. The only things recorded are the dates and times of attendance and they have a duty to report any safeguarding concerns.
After a while, many parents will feel that the contact centre is only needed for handovers or is no longer required. Supported contact centres are suitable for families where no significant risks have been identified for the child or those around them.
Supervised child contact – If there are any potential risks then having supervised child contact might be necessary. Supervised child contact centres ensure the physical safety and emotional wellbeing of children in a one-to-one observed setting and can assist in building and sustaining positive relationships between a child and members of their family. Supervised contact takes place with families in their own individual room, with skilled supervisors who can intervene if necessary. Referrals will usually be made by a court, Cafcass worker, local authority, or another Child Contact Centre.
If you feel that a contact centre would be helpful to your family, visit the NACCC website where you can find the contact details for your nearest centre.
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