Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service
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|Formation||1 April 2001|
|Type||Non-departmental public body|
|Purpose||Reporting to Courts on the Safeguarding and welfare of children involved in Public and Private law Family proceedings|
|Ministry of Justice|
The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) is a non-departmental public body for England  set up to safeguard and promote the welfare of children involved in family court proceedings. It was formed on 1 April 2001 under the provisions of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 and is accountable to Parliament through the Ministry of Justice. Cafcass is independent of the courts, social services, education and health authorities and all similar agencies.
With effect from 1 April 2005, responsibility for the functions of Cafcass in Wales became the responsibility of the National Assembly for Wales.
Cafcass looks after the interests of children involved in family proceedings. It works with children and their families, and then advises the courts on what it considers to be in the children's best interests. Cafcass only works in family courts.
Examples of matters that may be taken to family courts are:
- when parents make applications under Section 8 of the Children Act 1989 for such as Prohibited Steps orders
- when a parent wishes Contact with a child to cease to another parent / grandparent
- when parents who are separating or divorcing can't agree on arrangements for their children;
- an adoption application; or
- when children are subject to an application for care or supervision proceedings by Social Services
Anthony Douglas is the current Chief Executive and Accounting Officer; he is supported by the Corporate Decisions Group, nine regional managers and the Director of Cafcass Cymru.
The Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) and a subsequent review conducted jointly by the Home Office, the Lord Chancellor’s Department and the Department of Health of the provisions of court welfare services concluded that a new integrated service subsuming the work of these functions could provide an improved service to the courts, better safeguard the interests of children, reduce wasteful overlaps, and so increase efficiency.
The court welfare services concerned across England and Wales were: Family Court Welfare (FCW) (54 areas); the Guardian ad litem and Reporting Officer (GALRO) Service (59 panels) and the children’s work of the Official Solicitor’s (OS) Department.
The Home Office stated: "The review announced by the Home Secretary on 16 July 1997 into the relationship between the Prison Service and probation service may herald important changes to the structure, organisation, management, working practices, human resources and funding of the probation service. Both the prison-probation review and the Comprehensive Spending Review should result in steps which should improve public confidence in community penalties."
The Home Office Prison-Probation review consultation paper did not mention family court welfare or its future because the policy assumption was that family court welfare would move to a new unified family court welfare service about which consultation was taking place.
The government announced that a unified family court welfare service would be established. Among many key issues that had to be addressed were ensuring (a) the statutory basis for Cafcass; (b) sufficient funding to cover start-up, transitional and ongoing costs; (c) effective change management of the merger of 114 autonomous bodies into a single organisation; and (d) current casework continued uninterrupted.
These were addressed by a Project Team.
The Criminal Justice and Court Services Bill was led department by the Home Office as most of the Bill’s provisions concerned the establishment of a National Probation Service for England and Wales with a few parts concern with Cafcass arrangements.
To meet the needs of the Home Office, the Bill completed its Parliamentary stages in the Autumn 2000. As the Home Office had decided that the National Probation Service would be set up as of 1 April 2001, the Act’s Cafcass provisions were also commenced by the Lord Chancellor for the same date.
The functions of Cafcass are to “(a)safeguard and promote the welfare of the children,(b)give advice to the court about any application made to it in such proceedings,(c) make provision for children to be represented in such proceedings,(d) provide information, advice and other support for the children and their families.”
Subordinate legislation in court rules set out the duties of Cafcass practitioners in the range of family proceedings to which they might be appointed.
The short preparatory period posed many problems which took Cafcass some years to resolve. The prescient comments of the 1998 consultation paper stated: "It is unlikely that a unified service could be established in less than three years but it could take up to five years. Dangers of extending the period with loss of momentum and possible 'planning blight' have to be balanced by the risk of too rapid a transition with poor quality preparation."
In 2004 Cafcass published a policy and procedure to do with domestic violence.
In 2005/06 Cafcass produced the consultation document Every Day Matters, which led in turn to the development of a draft set of National Standards. These standards set out what service users, partner agencies and practitioners in the family justice system can expect from Cafcass. The Standards updated the 2003 Cafcass Service Standards and Principles, and after being piloted in the North-East Region, were phased in from 1 April 2007.
The National Standards put children in the family justice system at the heart of the service. The standards recognise the importance of service-user feedback and the active engagement and participation of children in their own case planning process. Cafcass has been actively promoting the importance of listening to children and including their views in the decision making processes involved in court proceedings. Young people can offer their own "Needs, Wishes and Feelings" statement directly to the judge if they so choose. However, Cafcass have openly admitted that they do not operate to any National Standards and cannot supply a copy of such when requested.
This work has been led by the Children's Rights Team who spearheaded the formation of a Young People's Board for Cafcass. This Board consists of 12 young people who have experience of using Cafcass's services. Since the Board's formation in August 2006 they have been helping to shape Cafcass policies and procedures.
The Cafcass total resource budget is published as being:
- £138,200.000 for the year 2010/11
- £100,848,000 for the year 2005/06
- £103,761,000 for the year 2004/05
- £97,910,000 for the year 2003/04
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In 2008 an Ofsted inspection of the experience of Cafcass service users in the family courts in South Yorkshire concluded (among other findings) that case records often did not show how Cafcass had come to its conclusions about children. In a post-inspection review in 2009, Ofsted found that in four of nine recommendations, inadequate progress had still been made.
In 2009, Ofsted inspected Cafcass: Lancashire and Cumbria service area (including Blackburn with Darwen and Blackpool). The findings found Cafcass to be inadequate in the following areas: equality and diversity, value for money, complaints handling, service responsiveness, performance management, self-evaluation, safeguarding children and improving outcomes for children (its raison d'être). Furthermore, the report found that:
"the service area does not ensure that consistent consideration of the impact of family breakdown on outcomes for children is embedded in all aspects of case planning and reporting to court. The impact of ... the service in ensuring that all children are safe or feel safe is inadequate." 
In 2009/10 The Annual Report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Education, Children's Services and Skills found that "(Cafcass) is performing poorly, with four out of the five service areas inspected judged to be inadequate."
Similar organisations in other countries
- Bureau Jeugdzorg and Raad voor de Kinderbescherming Netherlands
- Child Protective Services USA
- Jugendamt Austria and Germany
- Child custody
- Family law
- Parental rights
- Paternity (law)
- Residence (ENG)
- Professor Carol Smart
- "Cafcass Corporate Management Team". CAFCASS. Retrieved 6 September 2008.
- 11 June 1997
- Autumn 1997
- Footnote 6 paragraph 1.4
- Annual report 1998/1999, paragraph 13.15
- Prison- Probation Review: Home Office (August 1998)
- Support Services in Family Proceedings – Future Organisation of Court Welfare Services (Department of Health, Home Office, Lord Chancellor’s Department, Welsh Office) (July 1998): Consultation closed 13 November 1998.
- House of Lords 27 July 1999
- The Project Team was drawn from the three relevant government departments supplemented by consultants dealing with, for example, IT, payroll, estates and finance.
- Presented to the House of Commons on 15 March 2000.
- Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 Chapter 11 (sections 11-17) and Schedule 2.
- Royal Assent 30 November 2000.
- Section 80
- Section 12 (1)
- Footnote 6: Chapter 6 Legislation and Implementation
- "More criticism for CAFCASS from Ofsted", Family Law Week.
- Letter re. "Post-inspection review: Ofsted inspection of the experience of Cafcass service users in the family courts in South Yorkshire 2008", 23 July 2009.
- "Ofsted’s inspection of Cafcass: Lancashire and Cumbria service area", December 2009.
- "Press release: The Annual Report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Education, Children's Services and Skills 2009/10", 23 November 2010. The National Archives.
- Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service
- MSCI Reports on Cafcass Inspections, though Ofsted now inspect Cafcass
- Napo (trade union representing Cafcass and Probation staff)
- Committee on the Lord Chancellor's Department: CAFCASS Report
- Guidelines on safeguarding children within which all CAFCASS staff work.