What is a Section 7 Report?
A Section 7 Report is carried out in the majority of cases involving children and used to be known as Welfare Reports. The title refers to the fact the legislation for such reports is set down in Section 7 of the Children Act 1989.
Under this Section, when considering any question with regard to a child, the Court can direct that either a Family Court Adviser from Cafcass (‘FCA’), or a Social Worker, reports to the Court on such issues in respect of the child’s welfare that the particular case requires. Unless the family is already involved with Social Services – in which case the Court will ask the allocated Social Worker to prepare the report - Section 7 Reports will be carried out by Cafcass.
The reports will normally be in writing but in urgent matters the FCA / Social Worker will be asked to attend Court to give the report orally.
The author of the report can liaise with other organisations and services to obtain information on the family to assist with their enquiries, such as schools, support services, Police, but usually one of the parties will be asked to obtain letters or short reports or Police disclosure and send this information to Cafcass/Social Services. The FCA / Social Worker will also speak with the applicant and respondent in the case, and to any other person they feel relevant, and in a lot of cases will also speak to the children. If there is an argument over where the children should live, the author of the report will also visit the homes of the person with whom the child currently lives and the person who seeks the children to live with them.
The report will take around 12 weeks to conclude. Not because it takes this long to investigate and prepare each individual case but because there are so many requests for a Section 7 Report that each new referral to Cafcass/Social Services will join the bottom of the waiting list and slowly work its way up. It is not uncommon for Cafcass/Social Services to request an extension of time to file the report with the Court and send copies to the parties. Although the delay in these circumstances is unfortunate, it is better to have a complete and reasoned report than a rush job which may miss some of the issues leading to a request for an updated / amended report and even further delay.
Due to the permanent high workload that both Cafcass and Social Services have, consideration must be given in each case as to whether a Section 7 report is needed. If it just a matter of the parents not agreeing the days, times and duration of contact, but there is no dispute that contact should be taking place, then a report will be inappropriate as there are no welfare issues. If the FCA recommends that a Section 7 Report is needed in the safeguarding letter then it is clear that there are concerns as the FCA will not add to the workload unless absolutely necessary.
So what does a Section 7 Report contain?
The beginning of the report will set out the details of the children and the parties, what application has been made, and a summary of the issues on which the author has been asked to report. It will then clarify what enquiries have been made – ie what reports and statements have been read and which people have been interviewed or spoken to. The report will go on to summarise the positions of the parties and the views of the author in relation to each issue referring to the evidence and will then set out what impact the issues and indeed the proceedings are having on the child/children. The author will then provide a professional judgment before dealing with their recommendations.
A good Section 7 Report will explain clearly why the author has the view that they do and the author will not be afraid to express his/her view and a clear recommendation for the future. A ‘wishy-washy’ report will only lead to further investigation and an addendum report – plus a possible unpleasant time for the author during cross-examination should the matter reach final hearing !
One final point to mention is that the author of the report should act in the best interests of the child or children at all times. They are there to report to the Court and are not instructed by either parent. One party to the case may feel that the FCA or Social Worker is ‘on the side of’ the other party, but usually this is because that person cannot see or accept why their stance is not in the child’s interest and will not accept any other viewpoint.
It is also worth mentioning that although the Court will normally be in favour of the recommendations of the Section 7 Report, if the report has not been prepared adequately or the Judge has his/her own view or is persuaded to see matters a different way by one of the parties or their representative, then the recommendations will not be adopted whether this is in full or in part.