The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (‘Cafcass’) has published a new assessment framework to support its Family Court Advisers (‘FCAs’, also known as family court reporters, or court welfare officers) in assessing the harmful impact of a range of complex case factors on the children they work with in private law cases.
The Child Impact Assessment Framework (‘CIAF’) is “a structured framework that sets out how children may experience parental separation and how this can be understood and assessed at Cafcass to inform better outcomes for children.” It is intended to help FCAs in the timely identification and accurate assessment of what is happening for each child, and to provide consistent and balanced reporting to the court when advising it on what Cafcass considers to be in the child’s best interests.
The CIAF brings together new and existing guidance and tools into four guides which FCAs can use to assess the impact on the child of different case factors, including:
Domestic abuse, where children have been harmed directly or indirectly, for example from the impact of coercive control.
Conflict which is harmful to the child, such as a long-running court case or mutual hostility between parents which can become intolerable for the child.
Child refusal or resistance to spending time with one of their parents , which may be due to a range of justified reasons, or could be an indicator of the harm caused when a child has been alienated by one parent against the other for no good reason.
Other forms of harmful parenting, due to factors like substance misuse or severe mental health difficulties.
All FCAs dealing with private law cases will receive mandatory training in applying the framework. The training is due to be rolled out across Cafcass service areas from this month, with all practitioners expected to be trained by March 2019.
Commenting upon the CIAF Sarah Parsons, Cafcass’ Assistant Director and Principal Social Worker, said:
“I’m delighted that our guides and tools are now available for Cafcass staff and all interested parties to read and use. They will further improve how our practitioners assess private law cases, and also help our family justice partners and the court to recognise and act on children’s experiences when families are in private law proceedings.”
What does all of this mean for parents involved in proceedings concerning arrangements for their children? Well, if any of the four factors listed above are raised within the proceedings (and it going to be a common occurrence that at least one of the factors is an issue), then the CIAF will give an indication as to how the FCA will approach the case. This is likely to be of crucial importance to the outcome of the case. After all, the FCA will in most cases make a recommendation to the court as to what order or orders to make, and the court is highly likely to follow that recommendation.
In the circumstances it could be very useful for any parent involved in such a case to familiarise themselves with the relevant parts of the CIAF. The CIAF can be found on the Cafcass website, here. If you scroll to the bottom of the page you will see links related to the four case factors listed above. Clicking those links will (after a couple more clicks) take you to a page with links to the relevant tools and guidance.
Obviously the tools and guides are designed to be used by trained FCAs. Nevertheless, I think that most parents could glean useful information from them, which should help them to understand what the FCA is doing, and what factors are important to their decision making process. Of course, if you have a lawyer acting for you they will be able to assist you with anything you don’t understand. The guides may even help parents who are ‘responsible’ (in some way) for the particular factor, and assist them in understanding why their behaviour has been harmful to their child.