The Child Impact Assessment Framework and its development

What is the Child Impact Assessment Framework?

The Cafcass Child Impact Assessment Framework (CIAF), previously called the High Conflict Practice Pathway, brings together guides and tools which Family Court Advisers can use to help them assess the impact of different case factors on the children we work with. This includes domestic abuse; harmful conflict; child refusal or resistance to spend time with one of their parents; and other forms of harmful parenting such as substance misuse or mental health difficulties.

The structured framework sets out how children may experience parental separation and how this can be understood and assessed at Cafcass. It builds on our existing knowledge and guidance and follows a consistent and evidence-informed approach helping practitioners to find an outcome which is in the best interests of the children involved.

The guides and tools are interconnected and interrelated to reflect that children’s lives are complex and may be affected by elements from more than one type of behaviour at the same time.

As with all of our work, the framework will keep the child’s needs, wishes and feelings central to the recommendations we make to the court on who they should live with or spend time with. Each child’s case will be assessed individually and the final decision will be made by the court.

What are the intended benefits of the framework?

  • To build on our existing practice knowledge and skills so that we can improve outcomes for children.
  • To offer the highest possible quality advice to courts and parents.
  • To provide clearer navigation to support practitioners who need to assess the impact on individual children of a range of complex case factors.
  • To promote a common understanding of contentious issues such as alienating behaviours and keep the focus on the impact on the child when allegations of this type are made.
  • To provide a transparent, comprehensive and reliable frame of reference to support consistent and balanced reporting to court.


Framework in practice 

How will the framework be used by FCAs?

The Child Impact Assessment Framework sets out the tools and guidance for private law case assessments.

Every child and their case are unique and when beginning their assessment, the FCA will start by asking: “What is happening for this child?”

As the FCA gathers information, they will use their professional judgement to decide which guides and tools are most applicable to the child’s case, while always making reference to safeguarding principles and considering any impact on the child’s welfare.

The FCA will continuously assess issues present throughout a child’s case and be open to any new information as this emerges. The importance of listening to the child as part of this work is essential.

At the end of their enquiries the FCA considers what all of the information gathered means for the individual child. This informs the child impact analysis and leads to recommendations to the court and parents about what arrangements and interventions are in the child’s best interests.

When will the framework be used by FCAs?

Having published the framework and tools, we are now commencing mandatory training for private law FCAs in its use. Training will take place across the country between October 2018 and March 2019. We aim to ensure that all FCAs have received training by April 2019.

As the framework is a development of our existing guidance some of the issues will already be addressed in practice.


Development of the framework 

How was the framework developed?

The framework was informed by an advisory group from Cafcass, comprising approximately 40 practitioners from across the country and led by Sarah Parsons, Assistant Director and Principal Social Worker for Cafcass.

A range of academic material was also used in developing the framework.

In April 2018, we held discussion groups with a range of sector experts and family justice stakeholders, to gain their views about the framework’s effectiveness and content. This included the judiciary, lawyers, academics, therapists, mediators, parent groups, children’s advocacy groups, charities, and the Family Justice Young People’s Board. Their feedback was considered alongside that from Cafcass staff and is reflected in the final version.

The key developments made to the framework since the initial draft include: restructuring the guidance under one framework, strengthening the focus on the impact on the child, separating out the different private law case factors into four separate guides and incorporating guidance on alienating behaviours into the new child resistance and refusal guide.


Will the framework be reviewed?

The framework is being treated as a living document. We will incorporate updates in line with practice and research developments, and as with all our policies and practice guidance, we will undertake an annual review and make adjustments as appropriate.


We will update this FAQs document with further information if there are themes arising from further queries.

Newsletter sign up

Subscribe to our mailing list