How to Prepare for your Cafcass Safeguarding Call
FLiP Director Helen Greenfield discusses how best to prepare for your safeguarding call with Cafcass and what to expect. Helen advises on all matters relating to family breakdown, divorce and cohabitation. She has a particular interest in helping those who have been affected by domestic abuse. If you would like to discuss your case concerning your children, you can find Helen’s contact details at the bottom of this page.
- Who are Cafcass?
CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) are court appointed social workers who independently advise the family courts about what is safe for children and in their best interests.
They may be asked by the court to work with families and advise the court on what they consider to be in the best interest of the children and young people involved in: 1. Divorce and separation matters (“private law”) where parents and carers cannot agree on arrangements for their children; 2. Care proceedings (“public law”) where the local authority has serious concerns about the safety or welfare of the child; or Adoption matters (which can be public or private law).
This blog deals with the situation outlined at no.1; private law matters where parents and carers cannot agree on arrangements for their children.
- What are safeguarding checks?
After the court has received the application concerning a child, the court will send the application to CAFCASS to review the available information. They undertake checks with the police and with the local authorities where the parents have lived to see if there is anything that could cause concern about the welfare or safety of them and/or their children. A Family Court Adviser (FCA) will also offer the parents an interview, usually by way of a phone call.
- Upon issuing a court application, when will the court typically timetable a safeguarding call?
CAFCASS will typically speak to both parents before the first hearing; the First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA). The date and time of the call will usually be organised through Egress (the e mail system used by CAFCASS) but its possible you will receive the call without having any prior notice so be prepared.
- What is the purpose of the safeguarding call and who will be involved?
The purpose of the call is to talk through the application and any safeguarding concerns either parent may have regarding the other. The FCA will speak to each parent separately.
- How can I prepare for the call and what kind of questions will be asked?
The child’s welfare is the court’s paramount consideration for all proceedings under the Children Act 1989 where the issue relates the child’s upbringing. This is therefore CAFCASS’s key factor of consideration when speaking to parents as part of private law proceedings. There are various things to keep in mind in preparation for your call;
- Think about the main things you want CAFCASS to know about your children, maybe up to about 5;
- Have a list of points you wish to discuss but make sure you keep the emphasis on the children and their best interest rather than you/ the other parent;
- Raise any safeguarding concerns or concerns regarding alcohol/ drugs;
- Explain why you have made the application to court/ why you oppose the application made by the other parent;
- Stick to the facts and do not lie/ exaggerate; and
- Try not to unnecessarily criticise the other parent/ focus on the breakdown of your relationship.
- What will happen after my call?
Once they have carried out their checks, the FCA will then provide the court with information in a “Safeguarding Letter” (at least 3 days before the first court hearing) to help the court to understand and make a decision that is safe for the children. This letter will include a short report on the outcomes of the safeguarding checks and any child welfare issues raised by either parent.
A FCA should then be available at the first hearing. They will discuss the content of the Safeguarding Letter with the court and will advise on next steps to identify the best arrangements for your child.
If there are no safeguarding concerns, the FCA may try to help the parents reach an agreement without further court proceedings. However, if the parents are not able to agree or there are concerns about the welfare or safety of the child, the court may, amongst other things, ask CAFCASS to carry out a more detailed assessment and write a report about the child’s welfare (a “section 7 report”).