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Template:Infobox Organization The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) is a non-departmental public body for England and Wales Template:Ref 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 Department for Education. 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 the 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 the family courts.
Examples of matters that may be taken to family courts are:
- 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.
CAFCASS was established in April 2001, and undertook work formerly provided by three separate departments:
- The Family Court Welfare Service (a subdivision of the probation service);
- The 57 panels of the Guardian ad Litem and Reporting Service (for local authority disputes);
- the children’s branch of the office of the children’s Official Solicitor.
CAFCASS was also created to make support available to parents bringing actions in the Family Court because of conflicts over arrangements about their children.
The impetus for creating CAFCASS was for primary financial reasons, to curtail the escalating costs of the Guardian ad Litem service and to reduce the delay in the allocation of care cases put before the Courts, and of cases brought by the parties in dispute. Some of these concerns were shared by CAFCASS employees. CAFCASS's functions on inception were to: safeguard and promote the welfare of the child; give advice to the court about any application made to it in such proceedings and prepare a report for the court; to make provision for children to be represented in such proceedings; and to provide information, advice and support for children and their families.
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.
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.
Budget of CAFCASS
The CAFCASS total resource budget is published as being:
- £100,848,000 for the year 2005/06
- £103,761,000 for the year 2004/05
- £97,910,000 for the year 2003/04
Criticism of CAFCASS
Whilst some CAFCASS users find that the intervention by the agency helps them find a resolution in the interests of their child, some do not believe that social work practitioners have a legitimate view on child welfare. CAFCASS has been repeatedly criticised by fathers' rights groups who claim that it is failing in its duty to promote the welfare of children through unfairly denying children contact with non resident parents. CAFCASS are also accused of overstepping their legal powers and taking an ideological position in favour of women. In practice, CAFCASS practitioners are expected to use their professional judgement on what is best for each individual child, based on the facts of the case. They are assisted when the parents in dispute make genuine efforts to seek a resolution between themselves for the children's benefit.
- CAFCASS home page
- MSCI Reports on CAFCASS Inspections
- Napo (trade union representing CAFCASS staff)
- Committee on the Lord Chancellor's Department: CAFCASS Report
- Guidelines on safeguarding children within which all CAFCASS staff work