Cafcass and their Safe Contact Indicator Tool

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Cafcass have a tool which they call the Safe Contact Indicator Tool which they say should be used in:

Private Law: To be used during or post interview to analyse whether contact is safe / in child’s best interests

You can view a copy of this tool here:

A researcher asked Cafcass the following questions about this tool. Cafcass’ answers can be viewed inline below:

1. Please could you confirm who developed this tool and when it was developed. The tool itself says 2012 so please also confirm when it was first authored, and dates that any updates that have been made.

Cafcass responded: The tool was derived from tools by Sturge and Glaser, STURGE, C. & GLASER, D. (2000) Contact and Domestic Violence – The Experts’ Court Report. Family Law 615 (September) and developed by the National Improvement Service (NIS) team at Cafcass.

All tools for evidence-informed practice were launched at the same time in September 2013. The Safe Contact Indicator tool has not been updated but all the evidence-informed practice tools were last reviewed in October 2016. [EDITOR’S NOTE: the safe contact indicator tool hasn’t been updated since 2013.]

2. Please also confirm details of any specific elearning training that you provide on the use of this tool – when it should be used, how it should be used, and any best practices on its use.

Cafcass responded: Cafcass has a Private Law Assessment Tools eLearning module on Private Law Assessment Tools, which includes some guidance on the use of the Safe Contact Indicator tool. The guidance is below:

This tool is based on tools by Sturge and Glaser. This tool is a simple checklist which should help you to decide if contact is safe. This can be completed during an interview or afterwards.

The guidance for the Safe Contact Indicator tool is: To be used during or post interview to analyse whether contact is safe / in child’s best interests.

3. Would you also please confirm how many cases in 2015, 2016, and in 2017 (broken down by year) in which this tool was used.

Cafcass responded: Cafcass does not collect information on the number of cases in which the Safe Contact Indicator tool was used centrally; this information will be held in each individual case file. In order to provide a response, each case file would need to be checked individually

4. The tool itself has a footnote which says “(for guidance on the use of this form see ‘Guidance – Using DV Tools’ 2012)” Please provide a copy of this guidance document.

Cafcass responded: Cafcass no longer has the document ‘Guidance – Using DV Tools’ 2012’, the reference to this on the Safe Contact Indicator tool on the internet is out of date and will be removed.

The tool labels the following items as indicators of “unsafe contact”:

  • Child is afraid
  • Resident parent is afraid
  • Prior harm to child is denied
  • Perpetrator denies impact on victim
  • No expression of regret
  • Resident parent is undermined
  • No realistic prospect of a beneficial relationship  
  • No realistic prospect of repairing a ‘broken’ relationship 
  • No realistic prospect of contributing to child’s identity

Bearing in mind the detail and information contained within Cafcass’ own training in their own Post-separation Control Knowledge Bite where it says :

Risk factors for post-separation control:

  • Parental mental health problems, including mental illness and personality disorders. Parents can display rigid thought patterns, virtuous self-image and vulnerability to loss.
  • Humiliating circumstances around the relationship breakdown e.g. one party having an affair or wanting to end the relationship significantly more than the other.
  • High levels of conflict between parents prior and during relationship breakdown.

Signs of post-separation control

  • Increasing geographical distance between former partner and child. The resident parent applies to move away from the non-resident parent in order to impede or force an end to contact with the child.
  • Withdrawing love from or becoming angry with the child if they talk about the other parent with affection or refer to them positively.
  • Limiting the amount of contact allowed with family members, particularly those of the other parent. This is done by interfering with planned contact time or blocking the process completely.
  • Exposing the child to direct, indirect, overt or covert denigration of the other parent e.g. making derogatory comments about the other parent, removing all signs of them from the house and reacting negatively to them being talked about or referred to. 
  • Controlling the level of contact allowed (sometimes in contravention of court orders), interfering with planned contact time, or seeking supervision or restraining orders without foundation.
  • Forcing the child to choose between parents, with the aim of becoming the chosen parent. The controlling parent will employ emotionally harmful tactics to pressure the child into, for example, being frightened of the other parent. They will also try to isolate the child from social interaction with the other parent and their family and will corrupt the child via lying,manipulation and aggression.
  • Abusive behaviours by the controlling parent. Making unfounded allegations of physical, sexual or emotional abuse against the other parent and/or displaying delusional behaviour and making exaggerated claims.
  • Role reversal. Displaying signs of parentification (the child is forced to act as a parent to their own parent), adultification (exposing a child to adult behaviours before they are emotionally ready) or not recognising appropriate boundaries in the parent-child relationship.
  • Enmeshed relationship with the child. The child becomes the sole focus of the controlling parents’ life, to the detriment of their own wellbeing and that of the child. A one-sided alliance develops, thus alienating the other parent further.

Effects of control on the child

  • The child becomes emotionally entangled in their parents’ relationship.
  • Their capacity to deal with change decreases.
  • They display behaviour problems such as depression, anxiety and phobias which can lead to underachievement.
  • They display extreme oppositional behaviours, such as anger, hostility, rudeness, physical and verbal aggression, lying and spying.
  • Their thinking becomes extreme, their sense of reality is distorted and their thoughts and feelings do not match actual behaviour.
  • Their speech patterns and thought processes mirror those of the controlling parent. This is known as the ‘borrowed scenarios’ phenomenon.

When you contrast the training with the tool you can see that Cafcass FCAs are supposed to be trained on recognising the signs of Post-separation control – and yet their tool identifies almost exactly the same things as indicators of unsafe contact.

Unless this Cafcass tool is indicating when contact with the Resident Parent is unsafe (which we doubt very much, especially considering when and how it is used), then this is a confusing situation for their FCAs.

How is any of this in the best interests of the children that Cafcass are supposed to be helping?

In a Family Law system designed for combative parents there is no real allowance for the views of children and any understanding of how Family Law ultimately impacts on children most of all.

We speak for the children in Family Law so that, finally, the children have a voice.