Going through a court case concerning children can be a very distressing time for everyone involved. When going through this process, you will be informed that CAFCASS will be getting involved. This is nothing to worry about, and a completely normal part of a family law case. If you are looking for some guidance and information as to who CAFCASS are, why they get involved, and how to prepare, then read our CAFCASS FAQs.

Who are CAFCASS?

CAFCASS is short for Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. They are a public body that is completely independent of social services and the courts. CAFCASS look at what is in the best interests of the children involved in family law cases. The officers at CAFCASS are experienced and fully qualified to offer advice to family courts on what they think is in the best interests of the children involved. They work to offer an unbiased and impartial view on the situation, with their only interest being that of the children.

Why do CAFCASS get involved with family law cases, and what do they do?

CAFCASS are involved at the outset of each children case to carry out relevant safeguarding checks.  This involves their officers checking criminal records and police files, as well as seeing if the family are already known by social services.  They will also contact all the adults in the case and ask if they have any concerns over the safety or welfare of the children. After these initial enquiries, CAFCASS will provide a short letter to the courts which is known as the ‘safeguarding letter’.

The purpose of the safeguarding letter is also to provide the court with initial advice in terms of what things the court may wish to obtain following the first hearing, such as police records, medical records or witness statements.

If there are no welfare or safeguarding concerns, then the CAFCASS officer might attempt to assist the parties in reaching an agreement at the first court hearing. If this is successful, then CAFCASS involvement and court proceedings will be completed at this stage.

In some cases however, the court directs CAFCASS to prepare a Section 7 report which will require a full investigation, speaking to parents, sometimes speaking to children.  The conclusion of the report will provide recommendations in terms of who the children should live with, and what time they should spend with the other parent.

Depending on the case, a court might instead direct social services to prepare the report as opposed to CAFCASS. This usually happens when a family is already known to social services and have dealt with them in the past. Every case is unique, and the decision to involve either CAFCASS or social services will depend on the individual case.

What Is the Difference Between CAFCASS and Social Services?

The key difference between CAFCASS and social services is that CAFCASS are an independent support service, specifically appointed to assist the family court. Social services are there to protect children and vulnerable adults in all areas of life, not just in court proceedings.

How To Prepare for CAFCASS?

When CAFCASS get involved in your court case it is only natural to feel a little nervous. Knowing what to expect and properly preparing is so important and can help the officer to find the best solution for the children. Bear in mind that this process is not about what is best for you, but instead about what is best for the children involved.

When they ask you questions, always try to give answers which are child-focused. Make it very clear that you are aware of, and understand, the children’s feelings and needs. This should be more in-depth than understanding that your child needs breakfast or a routine at bedtime; instead, demonstrate that you know how they are feeling about the whole situation and how they are affected by it. Lastly, never get angry or defensive with the CAFCASS officer, these meetings are your chance to focus on what your children need, and they have that same goal