What is CAFCASS?
CAFCASS stands for Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service. A Cafcass officer will have previously worked as a Social Worker but has progressed on to become a Cafcass officer after additional training. They are often appointed by the Court for matters such as care cases, private law children matters (separated parents), and adoption.
What is their purpose?
A Cafcass Officer will be appointed by the Court to assess the child concerned and their environment. They are independent of either party and do not work for the Local Authority.
An officer’s purpose is to assist the Court with understanding what is in the child’s best interest. In doing so, they will speak to each carer of the child and, depending upon the child’s age and/understanding, they will also speak with the child concerned to understand their needs, wishes and feelings.
A Cafcass Officer may do some of the following to assist with their investigations: –
- Speak to each of the child’s parents
- Speak to the child
- Speak to professionals involved with the child
- Obtain records maintained by professionals involved with the child or family
- Visit the child’s current home and/or potential home or place where the child will potentially spend time regularly
- Observe the child playing and interacting with others
- Observe a baby’s behaviour and interactions with others
- Complete background checks on those involved or proposing to be involved with the child
- Recommend further investigations, tests, courses and resources that may assist the Court and/or family
Cafcass will initially provide a letter to the Court outlining the information that they have ascertained so far and explaining what further information, if any, is required. They will also give an indication of what they believe is in the child’s best interests, and what might help the Court, child, or family further.
If Cafcass remain involved after the initial investigations, the officers will look to write a report to give the Court a more in depth understanding of the family. This report will often involve reference to documents that have been provided to the Court such as police disclosure, GP letters and test results, for example.
The report will contain more detailed conversations that have been had with the carers of the child. Cafcass will also make observations about the information that has been provided to them. This could be about the family dynamics and what may help with these. The report will finish with recommendations for the child and family.
The Court will consider the information provided by Cafcass and may also ask it to attend Court to provide assistance to the families in reaching an agreement and to clarify any queries that may arise as a result of their findings.
Due to the work that Cafcass does with the families and the background that each Cafcass officer has within child law, the Court will attach weight to the recommendations. However, this does not mean that the Court will automatically mirror what Cafcass have recommended. Parties and the representatives make their own representations, which the Court considers.
But it is important that parties understand the value of having Cafcass officers in the Court and what can be learned through consideration of the family as a whole and most importantly, the needs, wishes, and feelings of the child.
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