Cafcass publishes new assessment framework

The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) has been looking into ways to support children involved in private law cases and has recently come up with a new framework to support their work and help assess the effects that family law proceedings can have on children.

Cafcass represents children in family court cases in England and aims to make sure that children’s voices are heard and decisions are made in their best interests. Our duty is to safeguard and promote the welfare of children going through the family justice system. Our They operate in two main areas of private law;

  • divorce and separation where parents or carers can’t come to an agreement about the arrangements for their children
  • adoption, which can also be public law.

Private law practitioners will all have to undergo compulsory training in how to apply the new framework, with training due to be rolled out from October 2018. All practitioners are expected to be trained by March 2019.

Cafcass says that the new Child Impact Assessment Framework (CIAF) will be important in setting out the ways that children feel when their parents go through a separation. The framework uses the experience gained from dealing with 40,000 private law cases each year (and 60,000 children) to find better ways of understanding the children’s needs and helping to get better outcomes for them.

The CIAF will help Family Court Advisers (FCAs) assess what’s really happening with the children who are involved in private family law cases. Cafcass also reports to the courts on its findings and the framework has been designed to help them give consistent and balanced reporting when they have to advise the court about what they feel is best for the children in each individual case. The CIAF also promotes a better understanding of some of the contentious issues that can arise and is expected to help FCAs to stay focussed on the effect these issues are having on the child when they happen.

Private law practitioners

Private law practitioners will be able use the new tools available to them within the CIAF to help them assess the effects that different factors are having on children, including;

  • domestic abuse
  • harmful conflict
  • child refusal or resistance to spend time with one of their parents, which includes guidance on parental alienation
  • other forms of harmful parenting, such as substance misuse or mental health difficulties.

Domestic abuse

The CIAF also incorporates the award-winning ‘Domestic Abuse Practice Pathway’, which helps Cafcass’s FCAs to assess children’s risk of further abuse along with the effect that past abuse may have had on them. Dealing with the effects and risks of any domestic abuse will be prioritised before any other case factors.

Sarah Parsons from Cafcass commented to Family Law Week:

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.”