Cafcass publishes new guidelines to deal with complex child cases

Cafcass is Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service and they get involved in  child act proceedings once an application has been submitted to the family court.

The role of Cafcass is to safeguard and promote the welfare of children by considering their needs, wished and feeling in child cases. The court usually asks Cafcass advisors who are also known as Family Court Advisors to work with families and advise the family court of the interests, needs, wishes and feelings of a child.

The new Guidelines published by Cafcass

The Cafcass Child Impact Assessment Framework (CIAF) are the new guidelines which set out how children may experience parental separation and how this can be understood and acted on in Cafcass.

The framework emphasises that safeguarding principles and child impact are at the heart of Cafcass’s assessment process, with assessments starting and ending with the question ‘What is happening for this child?’.

This helps family court advisors in assessing what is happening for each child, and to provide consistent and balanced reporting to the court when advising it on what Cafcass considers to be in the child’s best interests.

The four guides used by Cafcass to assess the impact on the child

Cafcass combines its existing and new guidelines into four guides which the family court advisors can use to assess the impact on the child of different case factors. The new framework brings together guides and tools which Family Court Advisers can use to help them assess the impact of different case factors on the children Cafcass work with.

The aim of the guides is to improve how Cafcass advisors assess private law cases, and also help the court to recognise and act on children’s experiences when families are in private law proceedings.

The four new guides are:

  1. Domestic Abuse – where children are harmed directly or indirectly such as coercive control
  2. Conflict which is harmful to the child – this includes hostility between parents or lengthy court proceedings which can be difficult for children to tolerate
  3. Child refusal or resistance to spending time with a parent – which includes parental alienation
  4. Other forms of parenting where these are perceived as harmful to the child which could also include drug or alcohol abuse or health difficulties.

The framework sets out how children may experience parental separation and how this can be understood and assessed at Cafcass while bearing in the child’s needs, wishes and feelings.  

Each case will be assessed individually, and the final decision will be made by the court

How will the new guidelines be used in practice?

In order to use the guides effectively the court advisors will start by asking: “What is happening for this child?”

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

The advisors will continuously assess issues present throughout a 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 advisors will consider 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.

The benefits of the new guidelines to parents

The main benefit of the new guidelines to parents is that they are able to familiarise themselves with the Child Impact Assessment Framework. If any of the four guides are applicable then parents will have an understanding as to how the court advisors will approach the case, what the family court advisors will be doing and considering and what factors will determine the family court advisors recommendation to the court.

Parents will also be able to understand how they are responsible to certain effects caused to their children and understanding how their behaviour has caused harm to the child. As well as benefiting parents, the new framework will also assist Cafcass and its advisors in:

  • Building on practice knowledge and skills so that we can improve outcomes for children.
  • Allow the advisors to offer the highest possible quality advice to courts and parents.
  • Provide clearer navigation to support practitioners who need to assess the impact on individual children of a range of complex case factors.
  • Promote a common understanding of contentious issues such as parental alienation 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.

It is therefore imperative that parents understand that the courts and Cafcass place the interests and welfare of children above everything else when considering child arrangements and child contact. Parents should therefore ensure when they are going through a separation or divorce they act in the interests of their children and not their own.

If you are currently engaged in a set of child act proceedings concerning Cafcass arrange a FREE consultation for legal advice on how our child law specialists can help you on 0330 094 5880 or let us call you back.

With family lawyers in Newcastle, York and across the country you can rest assure we have the national strength to assist you.

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