Section 37 Report

In complex child proceeding matters a family court may order a section 37 report to be prepared. This report is usually ordered where the matters are complex, and the court is concerned with the welfare of the child during the family proceedings. Such a report may be required in matters concerning child custody and child contact arrangements.

Article Contents

What is a Cafcass section 37 report?

A section 37 report is prepared when the courts become concerned surrounding the welfare of a child. The courts will order a section 37 report to address their concerns and essentially are asking the local authority to consider whether it should be taking further steps to protect a child. The court directs the local authority to undertake a thorough investigation into the child’s circumstances and report its findings to the court. The reporting of these findings is known as a section 37 report. The report is usually ordered when the court seems that it may be appropriate for a care order or a supervision order to be made.  

Who prepares a section 37 report?

The court will direct a social worker to compile a section 37 report. This can either be from the local authority in which the child is arising or a social worker from Cafcass. The author of the report will be a qualified professional social worker with experience in dealing with children and families.

What must the social worker consider when preparing a section 37 report?

The social worker assigned to prepare the report will be required to carry out a thorough investigation of the circumstances. As per section 37 of the Children Act 1989 they will need to consider the following:

  • Whether the local authority should apply for a care order or for a supervision order with respect to the child
  • Whether the local authority should provide services or assistance for the child or their family, or
  • Whether the local authority should take any other action with respect to the child.

As soon as the request for a section 37 report is obtained by the social worker the legal department should be informed of:

  • The name of the child or children and their dates of birth
  • The deadline by which the report must be completed and
  • The name of the social worker responsible for the report.

What must the section 37 report cover?

The section 37 report will need to provide the following information:

  • Background
  • History of children’s services and other agency interventions
  • Profile of each child
  • Profile of each adult who is a party to the proceedings
  • The response of the family members to the current circumstances
  • The social workers comments regarding the welfare checklist
  • The social workers comments regarding the no order principle and its relevance to the case
  • The social workers conclusions and recommendations with reasons.

It is important that before submitting the report to the court the report is discussed with the manager of the social worker. If there are any doubts about the recommendations that may be made to the court, the social worker should seek advice from the Legal Department.

Can you make an application for section 37 report?

A parent or the local authority cannot make an application for a section 37 report to the family court. Ultimately it is up to the family court as to whether it feels there is a need in child proceedings to make a direction for a report. However, the parties to child proceedings which include parents, or the local authority may suggest to the court that a section 37 report may be an appropriate course of action, but the court will confirm.

How long will it take for a report to be prepared?

Once the court has directed for a report, the social worker must provide this report to the court regarding the child’s circumstances and proposed actions within 8 weeks unless the court has agreed to an extension of the timescale.

What goes into a Section 37 report?

According to section 37 of the legislation the report must answer the primary question which is whether there is a need to apply for a care or supervision order with respect to the child. Whilst addressing this primary concern the report must also contain a conclusion as whether the children involved are suffering significant harm as per section 31.(2) of the Children Act 1989.  This requires consideration of the nature of the harm and whether the harm suffered is attributable to:

  • the care given or likely to be given to the child if the order is not made, not being reasonable for a parent to give; or
  • child’s being beyond parental control.

If the social worker has decided against applying for a care or supervision order following its investigation then then they must also explain this in the report together with the reasons for the decision.

The section 37 report must also outline whether other services or support have, or will be offered to the family, as an alternative to legal intervention. Within the report the author must also inform the court if it is intending to review the case in the future, and if so when the review of the matter will take place.

Is a section 37 report the same as a section 7 report?

Quite often parents may make an application for an order under section 8 of the Children Act 1989. The orders covered by this section are:

In the above cases the court may want more information about a child’s welfare to decide on what action will be the best for the child and may request a section 7 report. The report will take consider the risks to the child which are raised in relation to the parents or other relatives.

This differs from the section 37 report for which the main purpose is to ascertain whether a care or supervision order should be applied for in order to protect the child. The main difference between a section 7 report and a section 37 report is that a section 7 report is prepared where there is a private law dispute between the parents and or other family members, whereas a report is required to be produced where the court believes that public law involvement may be needed by way of intervention from the local authority.

What happens whilst the section 37 report is being prepared?

A section 37 report could up to 8 weeks to be prepared and submitted to the family court. In the interim the court may choose to make an interim care order for a maximum of 8 weeks. The court does not have the power to require the local authority to make an application for a care or supervision order following their investigation of the child’s circumstances.

What is an interim care order?

Whilst a section 37 report is being prepared the courts can make an interim care order. You might be wondering what is an interim care order and may not have come across such an order. You might have heard the terms full care order or a final care order. An interim care order falls under section 38 of the Children Act 1989. So what is an interim care order?

An interim care order similarly to a full care order which gives the local authority in question parental responsibility over a child. Therefore whilst understanding what an interim care order is, it important for you to understand that the making of such an order gives the local authority the power and authority to make decisions over a child similar to those what a parent would make.

Whilst conducting its investigation and applying for an interim care order the local authority is required to prepare a care plan. Such a plan details whom the child will live with as well as the contact arrangements for the parents until the final interim care order is granted by the court if it identifies that a child is at serious risk of harm. 

How long does an interim care order last?

Whilst wondering what is an interim care order you might also be intrigued as to how long an interim care order lasts for. As specified in the name, an interim care order is temporary. An interim care order can last for up to 8 weeks. Interim care orders are reviewed regularly and can be extended every 4 weeks.

Can an interim care order be challenged?

When understanding what is an interim care order, you might be wondering whether such an order can be challenged an overturned. Interim care orders can be subject to an appeal if you believe something about the facts or the making of an order itself is incorrect.

As a parent you could also make an application to discharge the interim care order altogether. The courts will usually consider a discharge of an interim care order where it can be proved that there has been a change in circumstances which is significant.  The courts can also on its own accord discharge an interim care order where they feel a child can best be cared for at home and the interim care order is no longer required.

What happens once a report is prepared?

Once Section 37 report has been prepared the social worker will be responsible for sending this report to the court. The court will also arrange for copies of the section 37 report to all the parties involved in the proceedings. The social worker who carried out the investigations and prepared the report will also be expected to be available for the court hearing.

Is a section 37 report serious?

A section 37 report is very serious for a parent. The impact of a section 37 report is that the court are considering whether your child should be removed from your care, given that there is a possibility they are suffering from significant harm whilst in your care.

What happens if care proceedings are not recommended by the local authority?

The family court cannot forcefully make the local authority to issue care or supervision proceedings. If the local authority during their investigations have not been able to identify any issues relating to the welfare of the child or have not been able to evidence any issues of harm being caused to the child then no further action will be taken. However, the report will provide the full reasons for reaching this decision which will be considered by the court.

What happens if care proceedings are recommended by the report?

If the section 37 report has made a recommendation for care proceedings to be initiated then this means the investigations have established that that there are issues with the welfare of the child and therefore the child will be removed from your care. Parental responsibility of the child will be provided to the local authority who will hold this along with the other parental responsibility holders. However, the local authority can exercise their parental responsibility above the other parental responsibility holders as far as it is necessary to safeguard the welfare of the child.

Can a section 37 report be challenged in court?

If the report contains any factual errors or omissions then the author of the report needs to be contacted so as to allow them the opportunity to rectify the report.

If, however you are of the opinion that the section 37 report is incorrect then you can challenge this report by one of the following ways which are discussed in some detail:

Statement: In some instances, the court directions will provide for further statements to be filed following the filing of the welfare report. This allows for parties to consider the section 37 report, so they are able to comment on it. This appears to be sensible since it can help identify the issues and arguments which could be dealt with in the next hearing.

Complaint: A formal complaint can be made to the author of the report if one party is not agreeable to the report. But what is the ideal time to make a complaint against the report?

It is difficult to assess when might be the best time to complain. A complaint during the investigation stage may annoy or anger the officer who has such potential power over your children’s lives. Your complaint may just possibly result in your case being transferred to another officer, but this officer is likely to be a colleague of the original officer and supportive of him. You may wish to secure advice from our family lawyers in York or across the UK before taking such steps.

Quite often a parent will usually want to make a complaint once they are in receipt of the report. However, if you wait until this point there is likely to be insufficient time between the filing of the report and the actual hearing for any corrective action to take place.

Making a formal complaint may lead to an adjournment of the hearing as the report may need to be considered with a few of either preparing an addendum report or an entirely new report from a different officer. However, this might not be in your child’s interest given that your child may have been removed from your care by way of an interim order. Quite often judges may decide to go  ahead with the hearing despite a complaint if they believe a delay is likely to prejudice the welfare of the child.

Complaints, especially those about the conduct of the investigation, arising after the report has been filed may be regarded by the court simply as your way of releasing your anger because it is not in your favour. The court may also state that had the report been favourable to you there would have been no such complaints.

Contact our child lawyers today

At Kabir Family Law we specialise in child law matters. We understand that when a section 37 report is ordered by a court your emotions will be running hight due to the fact that you could potentially lose your child to the local authority.

We pride ourselves in listening to you with empathy and will provide you with practicable solutions in how to deal with the report. We can also assist you in reviewing the section 37 report and challenging the report should this not be accurate. Contact us today on 0330 094 5880 to discuss your options or let us call you back.