In summary, where an application has been made to the Court under Section 8 of the Children Act 1989, a Section 7 report is ordered by the Court primarily concerned with the child’s welfare, and which is written by a CAFCASS worker, or a social worker from the local authority.
What Is CAFCASS?
CAFCASS: Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service.
This is the service specially established to represent children in family court cases in England. They are an independent body, and advise the family courts about what is safe for children, and what is in their best interests. CAFCASS was established to put the needs, wishes and feelings of children first, thus making sure that children’s voices are heard at the heart of the family court setting.
CAFCASS are completely independent of the courts, social services, education and health authorities in England, and exist solely to safeguard and promote the welfare of children going through the family justice system. CAFCASS supports over 140,000 children every year by speaking up for them while the family court makes critical decisions about their futures.
What Is Section 8 Of The Children Act 1989?
Applications for child arrangement orders between parents are made under Section 8. Section 8 applications cover all the vital aspects of arrangements for children, usually following a divorce or separation. These include:
- Child Arrangements Order – which specifies who the child is to live, and whom they are permitted to have contact with
- Prohibited Steps Order – requires a parent to get the express permission of the other parent before making trips with the child or doing certain (specified) activities with the child
- Specific Issue Order – to determine a specific question/issue arising in relation to the child
- Family Assistance Order – a CAFCASS worker or social worker will advise and assist the person named within the order (this is usually short term)
Why Is A Section 7 Report Ordered?
A Section 7 report focuses on the child (or children) at the heart of the family court matter, and will be ordered by the Court when they want to obtain detailed information about the child’s welfare, what future outcomes are best for the child and, of course, whether there are any risk factors of concern in relation not just to the child but also to the parents and other relatives.
It is likely that the Court will stipulate what they want the report to focus on, and the CAFCASS worker writing the report has the power and the authority to talk to everyone in your child’s life: school, doctors, police, other relatives etc.
What Will Be In A Section 7 Report?
A Section 7 report must contain everything required by the Court to make an informed decision regarding the welfare of the child. That’s completed against a Welfare Checklist covering all the background information, key facts, and evidence that the needs of the child have been met.
The worker writing the report will usually speak to the child alone, and usually at a neutral venue – such as their school – and will focus on the child’s wishes and feelings of what they would like to happen with their future. This gives the child an important independent voice within the proceedings. The child will not be asked to choose between parents.
The report writer will likely also speak to other relatives, teachers, and possibly even doctors or health workers. Their aim is to get an understanding of the child’s life and of what the child wants for that life in the future so that they can present that to the court.
Can I Challenge The Section 7 Report?
If you’re not happy with the report, you must let the court know your concerns so that they can listen to you and consider your points.
It is important, however, that you bear some facts in mind before challenging or raising concerns about your Section 7 report.
- CAFCASS, their workers, and their reports, are generally held in very high regard by the Court
- Minor inaccuracies such as spelling mistakes or incorrect dates should be discussed with the person who wrote the report – the court won’t take small details like that as a reason to overturn or disregard the findings of the report itself
- If the report does not specifically address the Welfare Checklist, you may be able to get it overturned as too flawed to rely upon; in which case a new report would be ordered by the Court
Your voice, opinions, and thoughts matter too. When you are in disagreement with the Section 7 report, you must voice that to your legal team so that you and they can fully discuss all of your options together.
When you are challenging the Section 7 report, make sure you have all your facts together, have concrete evidence and a genuine case to argue, and engage with your legal team fully so that they can properly advise you of the strategy to employ.