(1) This guide is specific to Cafcass and the role Cafcass fulfil in the UK Child Arrangements Order (C100) process. Children Act 1989
(2) This guide deals with the Safeguarding Letter process which Cafcass undertakes on behalf of the Court in preparation for the FHDRA (first hearing dispute resolution appointment).
(3) This guide was written in January 2020 by Andrew Weeden, a McKenzie Friend and a member of ‘Resolution’ (Membership number 22034).
How do Cafcass become involved in my case?
After a C100 application has been submitted to the Court, it goes through a gatekeeping and allocation process.
A FHDRA hearing will be listed and an initial Directions notice will be issued to all parties from the Applicant to the Respondent, named third parties and to Cafcass.
Cafcass will be appointed by the Court to prepare a Safeguarding Letter to be delivered to the Court prior to the FHDRA hearing.
What is a Safeguarding Letter?
A safeguarding letter is a Court document prepared by Cafcass to give initial advice and recommendations to the Court as to whether there are immediate welfare or harm issues in relation to the children of the application.
Included in the preparation of the letter are preliminary background checks with the Local (and possibly) National Police databases regarding previous criminal records and former or current Police involvement with the Applicant and the Respondent.
Also included are checks made with the Social Services authorities as to whether the children, the parties or the family have been (or are) known to Social Care.
This information, combined with interviews of both parents, is compiled into a letter which is given to the Judge along with an interim recommendation for where the Children should live and with whom they should be permitted to spend time.
What happens with the Safeguarding Letter at the FHDRA hearing?
You will have been given a copy of the Safeguarding Letter before the FHDRA so you know what the report says and what recommendations Cafcass have set out.
The Judge in your case will review the report and discuss the contents with both Applicant and Respondent.
If the report unfairly represents what you told Cafcass in your interview, or if there are any material inaccuracies or inconsistencies, you will have the opportunity to bring this to the attention of the Judge at the FHDRA hearing.
Once the Judge has heard from all sides and reflected upon Cafcass’ recommendations, the Judge will issue his or her directions for interim contact and residency arrangements along with any other matters that need to be considered as part of the C100 process. The Judge will do this in the form of Recitals and these will be attached to the Order which will be sent to you by either email or post.
Will Cafcass be at the FHDRA hearing?
Cafcass are required to attend the FHDRA, however, in reality, they only attend the hearing if instructed to do so by the Court.
Most Family Courts have a Cafcass officer in residence or available, in case they are needed in a hearing.
Under pandemic conditions, where hearings are undertaken remotely, you should assume that Cafcass will not be include themselves in the telephone conference call, even though required to do so.
How long do interviews usually last?
Typically between 45 minutes to 1 Hour 30 depending on how detailed things are and how much discussion and time is needed.
Most interviews are completed in less than one hour.
Preparing for the Interview
First Rule – Remain Child Focused
Almost everyone who goes into a Cafcass interview is emotionally charged, anxious, confused and harbours grievances towards their ex-partner.
Cafcass are used to this.
However, it is neither helpful to the reporting process and probably not helpful to your case (no matter whether you are the Applicant or the Respondent).
I always counsel my Clients to leave prejudice aside, be clear on the various elements of their case and to remain, at all times, Child Focused.
Make no mistake, it is hard to keep your focus on the children, especially when you have most likely come out of a difficult end to a relationship and you carry a lot of bitterness and acrimony towards your former partner, but it is important to the process to separate your role as a parent to your role as an adult and former partner.
The Family Court is only concerned with one question — what outcome is in the best interests of the welfare and emotional well-being of the Children.
That is not to say that your own interests are not important. On the contrary. But your own interests and wellbeing is of secondary importance, not primary.
Section 1 of the Children Act 1989 –Welfare of the child– states:
(1) When a court determines any question with respect to—
(a) the upbringing of a child; or
(b) the administration of a child’s property or the application of any income arising from it,
the child’s welfare shall be the court’s paramount consideration.
You would do well to remember this — throughout the C100 process!
How should you remain Child focused?
Let’s take a simple sentence — “I miss my children and it upsets me”. Straightforward enough. However, what is wrong with this sentence?
Answer: The sentence puts you first, not your children!
Now, let me restate the same sentence like this — “My children are missing quality time with me and I am concerned for their emotional welfare”.
The sentence says the same thing, however, unlike the first sentence, the child is the point of the message. And the concern for the child is connected to the message.
No, I am not saying that you should start each sentence with the words “My children are…”.
Instead I am saying that the objective is to deal with the needs of the children and that their emotional, psychological, physical and developmental well-being is paramount. The paramountcy principle.
The Court will not give you your children just because you miss them or you are lonely and sad at the loss of family time and values.
The role of the Court is to identify if the Children are at any risk (such as from emotional, psychological, sexual or physical harm) and where, and with whom, the Children, from a welfare perspective, are best to live. This is known as the best interests of the child.
- Plan your discussion points and reasons ahead of the interview.
- Identify real concerns you might have about the other parent.
- Understand what beneficial qualities you bring to your Children’s lives.
- Put yourself in the Child’s mind and ask –
- (1) Emotionally, what does your Child want?
- (2) Emotionally, how does your Child feel?
- (3) What makes your Child feel happy?
- (4) What makes your Child feel sad?
- (5) What are your Child’s interests and pastimes?
- (6) Where do your Child’s friends live?
- (7) Does your Child enjoy their School life?
- (8) Does your Child have regular contact with wider family?
- (9) How would your Child feel if they could not see their family?
- (10) How does your Child feel about their Mum or Dad?
- (12) Does your Child worry about not spending time with you?
- If you are applying for full residency or even shared residency, ask yourself — Can I provide for all of my Children’s needs. (Needs are more than food and water. Needs are schooling, structure, routine, pastoral care, emotional wellbeing, developmental needs etc.)
This is not an exhaustive list. But if you cannot think about things with your Child in mind, then you should question your true motivations for applying for a Child Arrangements Order.
Be assured that the Court will, albeit sometimes badly, seek to work out what the best interests of the Children are and they will rely upon Cafcass to assist them in doing so.
What are the limitations when dealing with Cafcass?
Cafcass is a Government body. While some of the Cafcass Officers were formally from local authority Social Worker backgrounds, not all are. Some, are fresh out of university with “Social-something” degrees and zero life experience.
For this reason, be clear on your objectives — and clear on your message.
If you treat Cafcass as if they were your defacto therapist or counsellor, purging yourself of the sadness and bitterness you feel towards your ex-partner and their family, you will only put yourself up for a considerable amount of disappointment.
Remember — This is not about you primarily — it is about your Children!
Do not overwhelm Cafcass Officers with miscellaneous information that is barely relevant to your case and the welfare of your children.
And expect Cafcass to get some of your facts completely wrong. (Social Workers are dreadful for not getting key details right!)
Your interview is time-limited — so make the time that you do have, count!
- Do not bring money issues such as Child Maintenance into your case.
- Don’t say he’s only asking for residency because he wants to drop the CMS payments he currently gives me.
- Conversely, do not stop the other parent from having good (and regular) contact and access with your Children because you fear a change in Child Maintenance, or because you are angry because you are not receiving any maintenance at the moment.
- The Family Court does not resolve Child Maintenance issues.
I recommend that, after your interview, you email the Cafcass with a one page summary of your points and facts. (One page of A4 paper). If you send them anymore than that, the chance of it being read, absorbed, understood and correctly translated into your Safeguarding Letter is minimal to non-existent!
What about Domestic Abuse (DV) in my case?
Some 60-70% of all Child Arrangements Order cases now involve allegations of Domestic Violence or Emotional, Psychological, Financial or Sexual Abuse.
Most cases are genuine, sad and harrowing real cases.
But let me preface with this — the wonder that is ‘The Internet’, and the rise in Social media Groups all offering endless stories and advice as to how best win your case, has unfortunately meant that there are an increasing number of cases where the allegations are contrived — or at the very least, over-dramatised and upcycled into super allegations.
Just remember — on the other end of the Court petition is a very real human being with feelings. Wrongful accusations can lead to lasting damage, for the adults concerned — and to the Children who are connected with them.
If you used to argue a lot, over stupid stuff, because you were not well suited and just could not see eye-to-eye, that is probably not Domestic Abuse.
- If one or other (or both of you) used to push, punch, kick, spit, cut or physically harm the other, that IS Domestic Violence.
In Family Court and Cafcass terms, “abuse” is a very big umbrella word which encapsulates (not legal definitions):
- Financial Abuse (Economic abuse where one party restricted monies and funds towards the other such as to impinge on their liberty, lifestyle, needs and wellbeing – or to stop the other party from leaving a toxic and broken relationship)
- Sexual Abuse (Including marital rape, forced into performing sexual acts or favours against your will; or humiliated and degraded into giving sex without proper consent)
- Emotional Abuse (Threats and intimidation, constant criticism, undermining and being made to feel guilty etc.)
- Psychological Abuse (regular and deliberate use of a range of words and non-physical actions used with the purpose to manipulate, hurt, weaken or frighten a person mentally and emotionally; and/or distort, confuse or influence a person’s thoughts and actions within their everyday lives, changing their sense)
If you genuinely feel that Domestic Abuse exists in your case, this should be included as part of your C100 and C1A application.
Abuse should, ideally, be independently evidenced. This can be from Police being called and/or arrests being made to seeing your GP at the time of the abuse so that your doctor can examine you and correctly notate your medical records.
Financial abuse should be evidenced using bank statements etc.
That is not to say that if you have no physical evidence that you cannot make allegations of domestic abuse. However, without any corroborating evidence, it becomes one party’s word against the other.
The Family Court does, however, have a process for dealing with Domestic Abuse/Violence cases and it is known as the Family Procedure Rules ‘Practice Direction 12J’.
Cafcass have case tools that they use for victims of domestic violence and abuse. This should come up in the interview and you will be given the opportunity to outline what has happened to you so that it can be included in the Safeguarding Letter.
If you have medical evidence from your GP, email it to the Cafcass Officer ahead of your interview and make them aware of it during the interview.
The Family Court has a duty of care to protect the resident parent as well as the Children living with the resident parent. This duty is designed to insulate and remove both the Children and the resident parent from being victims of further instances of abuse and/or violence.
Where the Children have previously witnessed forms of abuse and violence between parents, this will very much focus the minds of Cafcass and the Judge.
What will my Cafcass Safeguarding Letter say?
The report produced by Cafcass will list down all the information they obtained from the Police searches, together with any information that they found within the local authority social services records.
It will also include an interpreted summary of anything you informed them of, during your interview.
The same will be said of the other party as well.
Cafcass will then make a series of recommendations for the Judge to consider at the FHDRA hearing.
What do Cafcass recommend?
Cafcass has the power to make whatever recommendations they deem are necessary for the safety and wellbeing of your Children.
They will also make any necessary recommendations in order to keep the resident parent safe and free from any further threat of harm (where domestic abuse has been identified).
Cafcass will take into account any existing parent sharing arrangements that are currently in place between the Applicant and the Respondent.
However, if safety concerns are identified, they may well change any existing arrangements and replace them with their own recommendations.
If the Children have been previously living with only one parent, and perhaps not having contact with the non resident parent, and so long as there are no safety and welfare concerns, Cafcass have a default position that the non resident parent (usually the father) will have contact rights on alternate weekends.
However, Cafcass will consider increasing the contact rights if there are good reasons for doing so and if it is determined that it is in the best interests of the Children.
Are Cafcass biased towards women?
The entire Family Court system, Women’s rights charities and Family Court Advisers (Cafcass) lean towards women — even though they do not admit it.
If you are a non resident father, you will always face the challenge that the system feels like it is against you — and that is a sad, but presently true, indictment of the current system of Law surrounding Children related matters.
However — know your truth and live your truth.
Where a parent is applying for a shared care (50/50) arrangement for the children, be sure that you can prove that you have all the necessary qualities available to you, so that you can show that you can provide the same quality and levels of care and Child enrichment as your children would expect to receive with the resident parent.
Remember that a Child is best served by having a healthy balance of both parents in their lives, so long as it is safe for them and good for their emotional and developmental wellbeing.
Children can cope with their parents living in separate homes. They can cope with visiting and staying with both parents. But what they need most, is structure and routine.
It does not follow that a child can only obtain structure and routine in their life by living with one parent alone. But you need, as the non resident parent, to promote that point and remind Cafcass that children can (and do) thrive in the homes of separated parents — as long as all their needs are catered for and attended to.
What if I disagree with Cafcass’ recommendations?
If you disagree with the recommendations put down in Cafcass’ Safeguarding Letter, you must bring these to the Judge’s attention at the FHDRA hearing.
Prepare a ‘Position Statement’ and plan to present your concerns in oral arguments before the Judge. You will be given rights of audience as a party involved with the case.
Set out your concerns, one point at a time, with a line space between each line. If you prefer, I can assist you in preparing your Position Statement.
There are no guarantees that the Judge will be swayed by your concerns. And the Judge may defer considering them until a future hearing, many months down the line, unfortunately.
One thing is for sure, if you have domestic abuse allegations against you, or if you have been accused of mistreating your Children in one way, form, or another, Cafcass, will likely recommend that you have no contact or limited, indirect contact to begin with. And the Judge will be almost impossible to persuade differently.
What about Parental Alienation (PA) concerns?
This is a topic where there is a divide between the Law and Cafcass. There is currently a lack of legislation surrounding the issues of Parental Alienation, however, Cafcass are now beginning to have an awareness of the issue. Read their advice here.
Parental alienation occurs when the resident parent resists and refuses to allow the Children to spend time and have contact with the non resident parent.
There are usually triggers associated with it. When the ex partner forms a new relationship; Or when the ex partner has a new child within their new relationship, for example.
But PA is not purely women towards men. It frequently happens from fathers towards mothers too.
Through Case Law, it is now recognised that, when a Child is denied regular contact and access with the non resident parent, over time, it creates a barrier in that relationship, breaking it down and fracturing the bonds between parent and child.
While the non resident parent suffers significant distress, the emotional and psychological damage done to the Child has a devastating and long term affect and likely affects a child’s development.
Parental alienation often starts when a relationship has broken up and applications for Child Arrangements are started. Especially where there are allegations of domestic violence. The resident parent, not wanting to have to face or deal with the ex partner, simply refuses contact requests and blocks access.
It is important to recognise that serious mental health issues go hand in hand with perpetrators of PA; Relationships which were both controlling and coercive controlling are well known for parental alienation problems. Narcissistic personality disorder is cited as a contributing factor — the Narcissist wanting to retain some control over the ex partner, weaponises the Children.
I have seen a correlation between parents diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD/EUPD) as well. The connection being that BPD and contrived allegations to justify the imagined events built up in the mind, go hand in hand with the resident parent deeming it necessary to ensure that the ex partner is allowed no contact whatsoever with the non resident parent.
To complete the alienation, the resident parent manipulates the minds of the Children to poison and sour their feelings towards the non resident parent.
If you are afflicted by Parent Alienation, you should ensure that this forms a central part of your C100/C1A application and you should provide Cafcass with detailed reasons in support of your position.
Summing it all up
- Know your case, inside out
- Have any evidence you need to prove certain issues
- In Parental Alienation cases, a list of all the ways alienation has occurred
- Wherever possible, speak from the point of view of the Child
- Remember that the case is not about you, its about your Children
- Time is precious, do not waste it with unnecessary details
- Do not make false allegations thinking it will help your case
- Do not talk about money or child maintenance issues
- Be prepared to challenge Cafcass on errors in facts
- Be clear that now you are in a C100 process, you are not in control
- Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst
- Take any disappointment as early attempts at future success
- Most of all, together or apart, love your Children and treasure them
I am a McKenzie Friend and I specialise in Family Court Child Arrangements Orders cases. I am available to support you through the process.
I can support you with:
- Writing Position Statements
- Offering solutions for conducting yourself with Cafcass
- Writing summary letters to Cafcass
- Overcoming anxiety in dealing with Cafcass
- Understanding if Domestic Abuse should be indicated in your case
- Better understanding Parental Alienation
- Techniques for supporting a Child-Focused approach
- Clarifying Cafcass limitations and biases
- Filing supplementary applications such as the C2
- Identifying where you might need an independent guardian for the best interests of the children
- Attending your FHDRA hearing with you and taking notes
- Preparing your Scott Schedule
- Addressing the Court on your behalf (when the Judge permits me the right of audience)
I am a practicing member of Resolution and you can read my code of conduct here.