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How to prepare for CAFCASS

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When you apply to court for a child custody or contact order or you are on the receiving end of an application for a prohibited steps order or a specific issue order you may be told that CAFCASS will make preliminary safeguarding enquiries or prepare a report for the court.

In this blog, children law solicitor Behzad Sharmin looks at the role of CAFCASS in children court proceedings and answers your questions on how you can prepare for CAFCASS.


If you have questions about CAFCASS and need representation in a child custody or contact application the children and family law team at OTS Solicitors are here to help. Call us on 0203 959 9123 or complete our online enquiry form so we can set up a skype, video conference or telephone appointment for you with one of our friendly and approachable children law solicitors.

What does CAFCASS do in children court proceedings?

CAFCASS is an independent organisation that is separate to the family court, the judge who is hearing the children court proceedings, the local authority and social services department. CAFCASS will only get involved with your family if you or your former partner start children court proceedings. CAFCASS doesn’t get involved if you are able to resolve childcare matters without going to court or if you use family mediation.

At the outset of the children court proceedings, CAFCASS will conduct safeguarding enquiries and prepare a safeguarding letter. If ordered to do so by the judge, Cafcass will then prepare a full report. If CAFCASS is asked to prepare a full report on the child arrangement order, prohibited steps order or specific issue order application then CAFCASS will:

  • Advise the court on what CAFCASS considers to be in the child’s best interests and
  • Look after the interests of children who are the subject of the court proceedings.

Does CAFCASS get involved in every children court case?

Although CAFCASS will be asked to prepare a safeguarding letter in every children court application a full CAFCASS report can only be ordered by the judge. In some situations, both parents will want a report although a judge may not think that one is necessary. In other situations, one parent may not want a report because of the time it takes for CAFCASS to prepare a full report or because they don’t want their child to be spoken to by CAFCASS. Ultimately it is for the judge to decide if a report is needed in any application for a:

  • child arrangement order – this type of order sorts out which parent has custody, shared residence or contact
  • Specific issue order – this type of order resolves a specific question about the child’s upbringing such as the school the child should attend
  • Prohibited steps order – this type of order can stop a parent taking a step, for example, travelling overseas with their child.

Just because a parent has applied for a child arrangement order it doesn’t mean that a full CAFCASS report will be ordered by the judge. For example, if the dispute is over whether collection after contact is at 5pm or 7pm the judge may conclude a full CAFCASS report isn’t necessary for them to decide the children court application. If a full report is ordered it will take many weeks to prepare and won't be available until shortly before the final hearing of the court application.

When does CAFCASS get involved?

Many parents assume that CAFCASS won't contact them until the judge has decided if a full CAFCASS report is needed. That decision over CAFCASS involvement is normally taken at the first hearing of the children application . This hearing is known as the ‘First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment’ and is abbreviated to FHDRA. However, before the FHDRA, CAFCASS will contact you about their safeguarding enquiries. This is normally done by phone so that CAFCASS can prepare their safeguarding letter before the first court hearing.

Whether CAFCASS involvement is limited to a safeguarding letter or includes a full report it is best to cooperate with CAFCASS as their views and recommendations are highly influential.

Will CAFCASS see my child?

If CAFCASS are asked to prepare a full report they may want to see your child either alone or observe a contact visit. The precise arrangements will depend on your child’s age and maturity and the circumstances. If a child is of an age to see CAFCASS then it is best that they aren’t accompanied by a parent at the appointment so that the child can express their views and because the other parent may be more willing to accept their child’s views on custody or contact if the child was seen on their own. CAFCASS have substantial experience and skills in interviewing children, including speaking to recalcitrant teenagers or young children who are only able to express their feelings in play and drawings.

 What will CAFCASS ask me?

Every children court application and the circumstances behind it are different so children law solicitors can't publish a list of questions that you will be asked by CAFCASS as no two situations are the same. However, in every children court case where CAFCASS is involved they have to act in what they think is in the best interests of your child. Whilst you may not agree with their assessment of your child’s best interests that is the focus of CAFCASS enquiries rather than what you want or what your ex-partner believes their rights are.

Preparing for CAFCASS

It is very easy to become defensive when a stranger asks personal questions, especially when they are about your relationship with your child. Here are our tips on preparing for CAFCASS in children court proceedings:

  • Remember that it isn’t about what is best for you but what is best for your child.
  • Try to give child focussed answers. For example, think about why contact is good for your child and what they get out of it. That may be something as simple as their excitement that you have been able to take them to a park to kick a football around or the importance of your being able to read them a bed time story or try to help with a teenager’s exam or body image anxieties.
  • Make it clear that you understand your child’s needs and feelings. That isn’t just your understanding of the need to give your child their tea or to have a bed time routine but showing you understand how your child was affected by the separation or is still affected by contact handovers or moving between different households with varying routines and rules.
  • Try to look forward. Whilst it is tempting to examine in detail who did what leading to the marriage breakdown and the current children arrangements, CAFCASS will be looking forwards and not wanting to conduct a trial of the past events to work out who was at fault.
  • Don’t get angry. It is easy to get very angry about why you are in the position you are in but at your meeting with CAFCASS it is best to focus on what your child needs from you.
  • Do not name call. You may have a few choice names for your ex-husband or ex-wife or their new partner but it is best to be polite.
  • Plan for your meeting so you know where the meeting is and what you want to say but without being over scripted as CAFCASS may want to talk about other issues, for example, if an ex-partner has made an allegation, such as one of domestic violence, parental alienation or narcissistic personality disorder.

How will CAFCASS make a recommendation?

When writing their report, CAFCASS has to consider a statutory ‘welfare checklist’ to make sure that they have addressed all matters that may affect what court concludes is in a child’s best interests. The law says that when making any decisions concerning a child the welfare of the child shall be the paramount consideration but the welfare checklist entails CAFCASS (and the judge at the final hearing) looking at:

  • The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned. These are looked at in the light of the child’s age and understanding
  • The child’s physical, emotional and educational needs
  • The likely effect on the child of any change in circumstances
  • The child’s age, sex, background and any characteristics of relevance
  • Any harm which the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering
  • How capable each parent is, and any other person in relation to whom the court considers the question to be relevant, is of meeting the child’s needs
  • The range of powers available to the court.

Once the CAFCASS report has been finished it will be sent to court and you should get a copy before the final hearing. Although the CAFCASS report is very influential with the judge, the court isn’t bound to follow the recommendations in the CAFCASS report. However, to give you the best prospects of success in your children proceedings it is best to prepare for CAFCASS enquiries.


If you need help with making or replying to a children court application then the children and family law team at OTS Solicitors are here to advise and represent you and to answer your children law questions. Call us on 0203 959 9123 or complete our online enquiry form so we can set up a skype, video conference or telephone appointment for you with one of our friendly and approachable children law solicitors.

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