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Published On: October 30, 2023 | Blog | 0 comments

What is the CAFCASS safeguarding letter in child arrangement cases?

If you are separated and unable to agree child arrangements with your former partner, you may need to take the matter to Court to obtain a Child Arrangements order (CAO). This is more likely to be the case if there are any allegations of abuse and where disputes become hostile or intractable. 

Once Children Act proceedings are issued for a CAO, the first thing that will happen in terms of third-party agencies becoming involved in your case is that a CAFCASS officer (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) or Family Court adviser (FCA) will be assigned by the Court. 

The FCA will be tasked with making preliminary inquiries and providing a short report for the Court addressing any welfare and/or safeguarding concerns. 

It is important to note that while CAFCASS are independent from the Court they do act as the Court’s “eyes and ears” on the ground and often as the “voice of the child”. 

The focus of the first hearing within the proceedings is to determine what the next steps will be and to consider any safeguarding issues. The report will be a primary source of the relevant information for the Judge (or magistrates) at the FHDRA. 

In providing the report, CAFCASS are not looking at the merits of each parties’ case or the truth of their claims. The duty of CAFCASS is to prioritise the best interests of the children and advise the Court as to how their needs can be met.  

CAFCASS will carry out safeguarding checks with the local authority and the Police. Their enquiries will relate specifically to ascertaining any allegations of domestic violence, domestic abuse and potential abduction. This is not just the ill treatment of the child but could also constitute harm from witnessing abuse between a couple. 

Therefore, if the Police have been called, you or your partner have a criminal conviction, or a referral has been made to social services (eg. from the school or they could be on the child protection register), then the CAFCASS officer will document this on the report. It will be for the Court, rather than CAFCASS, to determine if the history is relevant and creates a safeguarding risk.  

The FCA will also speak to each parent to ascertain any specific safeguarding concerns, which may have been highlighted on the C1A form. They may ask for a meeting if clarity is needed and will also usually speak to the parties before the FHDRA. 

It will be important when speaking to the FCA to try and stick to the facts, rather than using it as an opportunity for mudslinging or badmouthing your former partner. However, all concerns should be raised. For example, if you are worried about the substance abuse of a former partner while caring for your child. 

If violence is raised and denied by the other parent, then it may mean a fact finding is hearing is required to establish the veracity of the claim. This type of hearing will only be ordered by the Court if it is essential to determine the issues, due to the costs, delay and stress involved. 

This background checking will influence the recommendations of CAFCASS and whether they feel they need to do a risk assessment for the Court. If there is a risk of harm, CAFCASS have to make a referral and explain this to the local authority children’s social care services. 

They may also recommend that a full section 7 report is carried out if the parents cannot agree on how to resolve any issues around the welfare of their child (see blog on section 7 reports). Conversely, they may conclude that there is no risk of harm and that they have no further role in the matter.  

Both parties will receive a copy of the safeguarding letter, unless there is a risk of harm to the child or one of the parties posed by a perpetrator reading this. The letter will usually contain: 

  • Background details of the parties; 
  • Current child arrangements for week-to-week living and who the child spends time with;
  • Results of safeguarding checks with the Police and the Local Authority; 
  • Conclusions on what concerns (if any) there are about a child’s welfare or any harm or risk of harm;  
  • Views on what order the Court might make; and 
  • Any other relevant information. 

If you are having difficulties in agreeing child arrangements and require further advice, please contact the Family Team at Anthony Gold Solicitors LLP by giving us a call on 020 7940 4060 or emailing us at mail@anthhonygold.co.uk. 

* Disclaimer: The information on the Anthony Gold website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. It is provided without any representations or warranties, express or implied.*

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