What other assistance can Cafcass offer?
The role of Cafcass is not just to provide reports to the Court or act as a Children’s Guardian, it can also play a very important role in either providing additional support or services itself or referring parties on to other support or services. Here we will look at some of the most common – further information can also be found on the Cafcass website.
The Parenting Plan
The application for a Child Arrangements asks the applicant if they have entered into a Parenting Plan. This is a written plan agreed by the parents after separation and it sets out how the parents will deal with various aspects of co-parenting the same child.
The aim of the Plan is to make it clear what arrangements are to be followed and there is a reminder to the parents to put the best interests of the child first. The benefits of a Parenting Plan, as set out in the Cafcass website, include that:-
• it will help everyone involved know what is expected of them;
• it acts as a valuable reference to go back to; and
• it sets out practical decisions about the children, such as living arrangements, education and health care.
The website also provides a link to a Parenting Plan -summary of progress which can be completed to make a record of what has been agreed and which issues still need resolving. This will hopefully help the parents to focus on the real issues and avoid the need for Court proceedings. If agree-ment cannot be reached the mediation would be the next step before making an application to the Court.
The Separated Parents Information Programme.
Commonly referred to as ‘SPIP’ most parents involved in an application for a Child Arrangements Order will be asked to attend and the Court has an expectation of parents that they will attend. Further information with regards to the programme can again be found on the Cafcass website. It is more suitable where there are no safeguarding concerns in relation to the children or the parents
The SPIP is a course which has the aim of helping parents who have separated to put the children first when trying to co-parent and when trying to make arrangements as to the time spent with each of them, especially when the parents are feeling bitter and angry towards one another. Assistance is given to parents to help them understand the basics of how to manage conflict and difficulties, and how disputes and arguments between parents can affect a child. Indeed, part of the programme is purely dedicated to seeing things how children view them. The Cafcass website includes links to the SPIP factsheet and the SPIP handbook.
The parents will not attend the SPIP at the same time and the children do not attend. The course is normally run for one four-hour session and other parents will be in attendance. The Programme is not run by Cafcass itself but by other providers on behalf of Cafcass. If the parents are referred by the Court it will be the Court office that sends the parties’ details on to the provider. The referrals can slip through the net so it may be worth contacting the Court or legal representative should nothing be heard within one month of the hearing where the referral was directed. If the referral is recommended by Cafcass then there will be no charge for attending.
Positive Co-Parenting Programme.
This Programme is available in suitable cases where a Children’s Guardian has been appointed under Rule 16.4 (see separate Q&A). The Guardian will discuss the case with the Judge and, if the Judge agrees, the case is allocated to a Family Court Advisor who has been trained to deliver the programme.
The Programme lasts for 12 weeks and provides structured sessions for parents and, as set out on the Cafcass website it ‘aims to promote positive change, improve communication between parents and restore the focus on the child in cases where parents may have got stuck in their own conflict and lost sight of their children. It encourages parents to place themselves in their children’s shoes so they can understand the impact of their behaviour’.
Supervised Contact Centres and Child Contact Intervention.
If there is no contact current taking place between a parent and a child the Family Court Adviser (“FCA”) from Cafcass who has prepared the Section 7 Report may recommend that a referral is made for a Child Contact Intervention.
These are described on the Cafcass website as short-term interventions of supervised contact. Their purpose is to assist the parent and child to establish safe and meaningful contact when there is no contact currently taking place. It is also intended that the Intervention will be a learning tool together with the Separated Parenting Information Programme.
The FCA will make a referral when they are satisfied that a child should be spending time with a parent or other adult but this is not taking place, for example :-
• where the parental conflict is hard to control and needs a practical shift in the mindsets of the parents
• contact has stopped and needs support to be able to recommence
• there is an indication of potential risk which requires further assessment
The aim is to enable the child to enjoy the contact and benefit from it which will lead to continued and positive contact after the CCI has ended.
Although Cafcass funds the CCI it does not provide the service itself but refers the family to the nearest contact centre which is accredited by the National Association of Child Contact Centres (NACCC).
Family Assistance Order
The legal definition of a Family Assistance Order (“FAO”) is given in Section 16 of the Children Act 1989. The Order requires either a FCA from Cafcass or a Social Worker to “advise, assist and (where appropriate) befriend any person named in the order.
Section 16(2) sets out that a person who may be named in the FAO must be:-
(a) a parent, guardian or special guardian of the child;
(b) any person with whom the child is living or who is named in a Child Arrangements Order as a person with whom the child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact;
(c) the child
If an FAO is made together with an order that the child spends time with a parent the Cafcass officer may also be asked to advise and assist in setting up and improving the time spent and ensuring, as far as possible, that this time continues after the FAO comes to an end.
If the FAO is made at the same time as any other order which falls under Section 8 of the Children Act 1989 (ie Child Arrangements Order, Prohibited Steps Order or Specific Issue Order, the FAO may require the officer to report to the Court 'on such matters relating to the Section 8 order as the Court may require (including the question as to whether the Section 8 order ought to be varied or discharged)' – Section 16(6) as substituted following the Children and Adoption Act 2006 on 1st October 2007.
Under Section 16(5), a FAO shall remain in force for a period of 12 months starting from the day that the Order is made unless a shorter period is specified. The Court cannot make a FAO unless it has the agreement of every person who is to be named in the order except for the child.
However, other routes are normally preferable and the cases where it is felt appropriate and necessary for a FAO to be made with Cafcass as the appointed officer are now limited. The Court will consult with Cafcass before making a FAO and advice must be given either in writing or orally as to whether the FAO would be in the best interests of the child, how it might operate and the maximum length of time that the FAO should be in force.
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