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The Child Impact Assessment Framework (CIAF), brings together guides and aids which Family Court Advisers (FCAs) use to help them understand what life is like for a child, the impact of their experiences, and to find out their wishes and feelings in order to complete their assessments and make recommendations to the court about the child’s best interests. The framework has four main ‘folders’  which contain the guidance, aids and resources for assessing the impact on children of domestic abuse; harmful parental conflict; adult behaviour which results in the child’s refusal or resistance to spend time with their other parent or carer, or other family members who are important to them (sometimes called ‘alienating behaviours’); and parenting issues that can affect their ability to care safely for a child, such as alcohol and substance misuse or unresolved mental ill-health.

The framework sets out how a child may experience parental separation, including the ‘loss’ of a parent or carer and how the impact of this on the child can be understood and assessed by their FCA. 

The guides and aids are interconnected to reflect that a child’s life is unique and complex and may be affected in different ways by elements from more than one type of parental behaviour at the same time. 

The framework keeps consideration of the child’s needs, wishes and feelings central to the recommendations their FCA makes to the court. Each child’s case is assessed individually taking into account their uniqueness with the final decision made by the court after considering all the available evidence, which includes what you and your child’s other parent have told the court. 

The benefits of the framework include:

  • A transparent, comprehensive, and reliable framework to support consistent and balanced reporting to court. 
  • Clear signposting and reference to available guidance to support FCAs undertaking the analysis required to advise the court. 
  • Promoting a common understanding of contentious issues such as ‘alienating behaviours’ and keep the focus on the impact for the child when allegations are made. 

The framework in practice

How the framework is used by FCAs 

The CIAF sets out the aids and guidance for FCAs undertaking assessments of the child’s welfare in private law proceedings. 

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

As the FCA gathers information, they use their professional experience, knowledge, and skill to decide for themselves which guides and aids will be most helpful in understanding what life is like for them, how the separation of their parents is impacting on them, and what arrangements are most likely to meet their long-term needs. The FCA understands the vital importance of seeing and engaging with your child as part of their assessment. At the heart of the FCA’s assessment is their statutory duty to assess the welfare needs of your child, including arrangements to safeguard them from harm.  

The FCA will be open to any new information about issues affecting your child as this emerges, right up to the point they complete their report and file it with the court.  

At the end of their enquiries, the FCA analyses all the information they have gathered and the different perspectives of you and your child’s other parent, other professionals involved with your child and family, and when appropriate members of your child’s wider family. This informs their child impact analysis and their advice and recommendations to the court about what arrangements are in your child’s best interests.