Cafcass & Social Services

In many instances when a parent applies for a court order under the Children Act 1989 the court will decide that it would be helpful to be provided with a non-partisan assessment of the situation, rather than rely solely upon the accounts provided by the parents. Consequently the court may direct that a Children and Family Reporter will prepare a report, addressing specific areas related to the application. In many instances this report will contain firm recommendation as to what order should be made and in most instances the court will follow these recommendations. Therefore, these reports are critical.
Prior to April 2001 the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) did not exist and the function of preparing reports for the court in private (i.e. not involving the local authority) Children Act 1989 proceedings was undertaken by the Family Court Welfare Service (FCWS) and those making the welfare reports were called (Family) Court Welfare Officers. Though CAFCASS has taken on other related functions the main focus here will be on the function which affects the majority of our members, that is, providing written reports to assist the court when it is considering making an order in private family proceedings – typically in a dispute over contact or residence.
Most of the employees of the FCWS have moved across to CAFCASS with new contracts and will be carrying out the same tasks as before. CAFCASS came into being as a result of the recognised deficiencies of the old system and will for some time be in a transition stage, taking a year or more to develop a complaints procedure and performance standards.
In the event that CAFCASS does develop a “new culture” with “proper training” and “professional standards” as its then Chairman promised (Anthony Hewson, CAFCASS Chairman at FNF’s AGM, 23 September 2001), much of the advice and observations about court welfare officers may no longer be applicable. However, in the meantime it is not unrealistic to extend our views and advice relating to the old system into this transition period and for members to regard case law and anecdotal evidence about court welfare officers and welfare reports as holding good. (note. Mr Hewson resigned in October 2003).

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