Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of family law and children’s services in particular will have heard of Cafcass. However, do they know what the letters stand for and what work the organisation does?
Cafcass stands for Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Services.
It was founded in 2001 through the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act, a piece of legislation which incorporated all the family court services which, up to that time, had been provided by The Family Court Welfare Service, the Guardian ad Litem Service and the Children’s Division of the Official Solicitor’s Office. It is an agency which is independent of the courts, social services, education and health authorities and other agencies.
The role of Cafcass
- To safeguard and promote the welfare of children
- To give advice to the family courts
- To make provision for children to be fully represented
- To provide information, advice and support for children and their families
So, Cafcass is there to promote the interests of the child, be it in family proceedings or when advising the family courts. It is also the biggest employer of social workers in the country, with professionally qualified staff, called Family Court Advisers, who work exclusively in the family courts.
It is therefore widely used in cases where children are subjected to an application for care or supervision proceedings by social services, in adoption applications or in situations where parents are separating or divorcing but cannot agree on arrangements for their children. They can only become involved with a family when they are ordered to by the court with their specific role in a case dependent on what is stated in the Court Order.
Families who are involved in proceedings with Cafcass should remember that the role of the authorities is to look after the best interests of the child and that they are not the enemy. However, it is also worth the family remembering that in law a child has the right to have contact with their family unless there are specific questions as to the child’s safety.
Things to bear in mind when dealing with Cafcass
- The family should be aware that the officer is working to try and achieve the best outcome for the child.
- Try and be respectful of them and the job they are doing.
- Try and be patient. It can take some time for Cafcass to complete their report and in this time they will be doing basic checks with schools, GPs etc. They will also be in contact with the police, social services and probation for any past or present records. A Cafcass report usually takes around 12 weeks to complete.