Family Assistance Orders

Family Assistance Orders under section 16 of the Children Act 1989 are short term orders which allow the court to make an order requiring a Cafcass officer or a local authority officer to advise, assist and befriend any person named in the order. The purpose of family assistance orders is to provide additional social care support to families who experience difficulties and are aimed to help the family. Family assistance orders allow for facilitating and monitoring contact.

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In what type of proceedings can Family Assistance Orders be made?

Family assistance orders are made in private law proceedings which concern children. The purpose of this order is to allow Cafcass or the local authority officers to assist in establishing, improving and maintaining contact where a child arrangements order has been made.

Can anyone apply for family assistance orders?

Family assistance orders are only made when the judge considers it appropriate to make such an order. Family orders cannot be applied by anyone as a freestanding order such as for child custody or child arrangements. However, it may be possible to ask the court to consider making family assistance orders when another order is applied for such as a Contact Enforcement order or a Child Arrangements order.

Quite often family assistance orders are either proposed by the court or the Cafcass officer involved in the case. In order for family orders to be made the consent of every person named in the order must be taken, except the consent of the child. A local authority must also consent to the order if they are providing the appropriate officer except where the child lives within their area.

Who can be named on family assistance orders?

Under the Children Act 1989 the following people may be named on family assistance orders:

  • A parent, guardian or special guardian of the child,
  • Any person with whom the child is living. This includes any one named in a child arrangement order with whom the child is to live with, spend time or have contact, or
  • The child themselves.

How long do these orders last for?

Family assistance orders can last for up to twelve months. However, the court must define the length of family orders. As such the courts are able to make family orders for a shorter defined period.

When are family assistance orders suitable?

Cafcass guidance suggests that the following issues should be considered when deciding on whether a family assistance order is suitable for a case:

  • Whether the welfare and safety of a child will be improved with a family assistance order
  • Whether the issues in dispute can be identified and an achievable target will be given which is suitable for a family order
  • Whether the parents are willing to consent to the order and co-operate with the order and the officer involved
  • Whether the parents are able to separate their feelings from the needs of their children to make the family assistance orders a suitable arrangement once such order is made
  • Whether the aim of the family assistance order can be reached without Cafcass or the local authority report. This could be where parents are able to work together to understand the child’s needs and development and maintain contact without assistance or intervention.
  • Whether the child is able to explain their wishes and feelings in regard to what they would like to happen. This would be subject to the child’s age and understanding.
  • Whether there are other resources available which could help the family assistance order to succeed for the child and family. This can usually be the case where other family members or agencies may be willing to help.
  • If a report is necessary at the end of or during the family assistance order and what report would be the most appropriate.

If the family assistance order has not been recommended by Cafcass or the local authority and they do not believe that family orders will be necessary or purposeful in the matter than they can challenge the court.

When are these orders made?

Most commonly, family assistance orders are made where it is difficult for the family to deal with issues regarding child contact without the help of Cafcass or the local authority. The aim of the family assistance orders is to promote arrangements for parents relating to child access where these are in dispute. Family assistance orders are used as a tool to promote the child’s relationship with their parents, or other members of the family from whom the child may have otherwise become alienated.

How does family assistance orders affect parental responsibility?

Whilst family assistance orders are required to assist, advise and promote child contact they do not transfer parental responsibility to either Cafcass or the local authority. With family assistance orders the parental responsibility remains with the parents or anyone named in the child arrangements order.

What is a full care order?

A full care order is an order which allows for a child to be placed in the care of the local authority. A full care order gives the local authority parental responsibility of a child and this parental responsibility of the local authority is placed above any other parental responsibility holder.

Who must the courts consult before making family assistance orders?

Before making family assistance orders the courts will need to consult either a Cafcass officer or a local authority children’s services officer. Prior to making family assistance orders the courts need to be advised by the officer on whether an order would be in the best interests of the child. The officer will also need to advise the court on how the order might operate and the ideal duration for the order.

What involvement do Cafcass have with family assistance orders?

A Cafcass officer will help set goals which need to be achieved during the duration of the family assistance order. The Cafcass officer will be responsible for reviewing the progress of the matter during the family assistance orders and see whether the goals are being met. The goals can be revised or added to as necessary by the Cafcass officer. A case plan should be prepared which sets out the nature of the interventions to be carried out by Cafcass and other agencies and should include the frequency, duration and locations where the interventions should take place.

If any new concerns arise during the family assistance order which indicates that a child is at risk of harm, then the Cafcass officer must bring this to the attention of the case manager immediately.

The case manager at Cafcass should ensure that the child and everyone named in the family assistance order is aware of the exact terms, what work the court wants to take place under the order and the steps the court wants the case manager to take. Cafcass will also liaise with any other professionals who are involved in proceedings such as the police or health workers. The Cafcass officer should also make sure that everyone named in the order is clear about the circumstances which may cause the case to be referred back to the court.

At the conclusion of the family assistance order the Cafcass officer should arrange a final review with the family involved to review what has been achieved and what should be reported back to the court. The Cafcass officer will also consider what ongoing needs remain and how these might be best met.

What involvement do children’s services have with family assistance orders?

Similarly, to Cafcass the court may require a local authority to make an officer of the authority available to assist parents. If the local authority is required to provide an officer it will usually be from the children’s services. The children’s services officer will be giving short term help to parents or partners to cope with immediate problems from their separation or divorce. The aim of a family assistance order is to smooth the transition for the parents and their children and to promote arrangements for access where these are in dispute. The children’s services will try and facilitate co-operation between the parents in the future.

If a family assistance order is made in respect of a child and the order is to be in force at the same time as a contact order, the children’s services officer may be directed by the court to give advice and assistance as regards to establishing, improving and maintaining the contact. Through family assistance orders the court can compel a local authority to provide supervised contact.

The children’s services will work together with the family and will provide targets and how these will be measured. The children’s services may also specify what will happen in the event of things not going to plan. The local authority and children’s services may also specify referrals and or attendance for specific interventions which may be appropriate to the case.

Regardless of the matter being allocated to either Cafcass or the local authority their involvement will be similar with the ultimate aim of assisting families during separation and divorce to ensure child contact is promoted and maintained.

Can family assistance orders be avoided with proper legal advice?

Family assistance orders are usually ordered where either the court or Cafcass feel that a child may suffer from contact issues following the separation or divorce of the parents. This is usually when there is quite a significant dispute amongst the parents.

Family assistance orders can be avoided if parents can illustrate to the court that they are willing to try and ensure their differences do not prevent either parent on not maintaining contact with the child. Quite often family lawyers can assist you in attempting to reconcile any differences and mediate with the other parent. Furthermore, we can assist with mediation where communication between the parents may not be an option.

Through careful legal advice family assistance orders can be avoided. Parents are reminded that in family law, the welfare of a child is most important factor. If parents are able to set aside their personal differences and focus on the needs and welfare of their children then there may not be a need for family assistance orders.

At Kabir Family Law, our family specialists can attempt to reconcile differences and disputes following a separation or divorce.

Examples of when family assistance orders have been beneficial

Cafcass guidance provides that there should be a case plan which should be shown to the family which sets out a series of goals, regular reviews and a final review to identify what should be reported to the court. The court is able to detail the works to be covered and the content of the reports. Situations in which the making of family assistance orders have been useful are:

  • In a direct contact case, which commenced before a child arrangement which had gone on for over 2 years. Cafcass were involved in this matter in which domestic violence had been alleged but no serious findings were made. The mother and children were resistant to contact. The court made a family assistance order for 12 months during the proceedings. The children were encouraged to see their father, although this was not entirely successful. At the conclusion of the proceedings the assistance order remained in place and further supervised contact was ordered. The children had been joined as parties and Cafcass agreed to assign a family support worker once a final child arrangements order was made.
  • Another private contact matter in which the father had been living abroad without seeing his children. Before direct contact could be considered there was considerable amount of works required. A assistance order was made to allow a family court adviser to assist the father in writing letters and in turn the children to accepting them. The court officer was also to help the father make a video for the children prior to a meeting being set up.
  • In a shared care arrangement, the parties had been constantly arguing over their son for years. The mother applied to vary an existing shared residence order to obtain sole residence for herself. The child had a strong attachment to the father and a family assistance order was eventually made to enable the adviser to set up sessions to help communication between the parents. The final report confirmed that matters had calmed down between the parents.
  • In another local authority matter the parents lived in different parts of the country and their separation had been acrimonious. The father had anger management issues whilst the mother formed a new relationship. One of the children were injured which lead to the father and his new partner coming forward and the children were placed with them. The mother refused to travel for contact or to attend without her partner. The matter for consideration at the final hearing was whether a supervision order should be made. Instead a family assistance order was made. The final report was to cover the issues of the resumption of contact with the mother and the father continued attendance on parenting courses.
  • In a special guardianship matter a mother accepted that she couldn’t cope with or did not oppose the children living with the paternal grandmother. When the grandmother was young she had some difficulties of her own, but she had matured. The mother was prone to outbursts and needed assistance with getting to contact. A family assistance was made naming the mother to the original local authority with its agreement because the local authority where the children were living had agreed to provide all the services the children and grandmother required and to supervise the mothers contact.

The above examples illustrate how family assistance orders can be used to meet the needs of particular cases. The courts have noted that having a person with the required knowledge and skills and a person in authority who keeps watchful eye over things can ease transitions between parents.

Contact us today for more information and assistance on family assistance orders

Our family lawyers in Fulham as well as nationally across York, Oxford, Northampton and Newcastle specialise in all aspects of child law matter and can provide you with all the advice you need on family assistance orders and how these can be used in your particular case by the family court. Contact us today on 0330 094 5880  to discuss your options or let us call you back.