Cafcass provide guidance to their FCAs on understanding and reporting on the needs, wishes and feelings of children in the cases they’re involved in within the family courts.
Cafcass start the Guidance by saying:
It’s essential that the decisions made in the family court take into account the detailed needs, wishes and feelings of the child, but this sometimes doesn’t happen.
This practice model provides a framework to ensure that children’s needs, wishes and feelings are always explored, and supports children to express themselves and to be more actively involved in the whole family court process.
They go on to say:
This practice model allows the family court to take into consideration the needs, wishes and feelings of an individual child or young person. One set of forms has been designed for older children and one for younger children, but you can decide which to use depending on the child’s developmental needs.
This model promotes the analytical approach to assessing information shared by the young person and ensures the young person’s own analysis is not minimised in the process. It is intended to be concise and relevant to the issues considered.
My Needs,Wishes and Feelings can be filed in court, sometimes in its own right, sometimes alongside a report. It can also be a valuable record for the young person of their contribution when they reflect on this in later life.
Recent HMICA inspection reports have raised questions about the way in which we facilitate and involve children and young people in our work and in the family court process.This model of practice would effectively enable a young person to participate in his or her own case planning process.
We’ll come back to the HMICA inspection report that they mention in another post as it makes for very interesting reading.
Here are the forms that they refer to when they say “One set of forms has been designed for older children and one for younger children”:
- Letter to the Judge Older_form 11
- Letter to the Judge Younger_form 10
- wishes and feelings Older_form 1
- wishes and feelings Younger_form 1
- fact sheet Older_fact sheet
- fact sheet Younger_fact sheet
- my needs Older_form 7A
- my needs Older_form 7B
- my needs Younger_form 6
- my plan Older_form 9
- my plan Younger_form 8
- things that make me feel safe Older_form 4
- things that make me feel safe Younger_form 4
At the foot of some of these forms Cafcass have some brief text that says:
“I have shared the report incorporating My Needs,Wishes and Feelings with the young person. The young person understands the content of My Needs,Wishes and Feelings and agrees to it being filed with the court.”
On Page 6 of this guidance handbook Cafcass say:
My Needs, Wishes and Feelings is, therefore, a tool to help young people express their views to a judge, if they wish to do so.
In Cafcass Operating Framework they reiterate this saying:
“Practitioners help children to write letters to judges or magistrates, as well as seeing them, when children wish to.”
A researcher asked them to explain what training Cafcass provide on when to use wishes and feelings tools. Cafcass replied to say:
The use of the My Needs, Wishes and Feelings tools is a matter for the practitioner’s professional judgement.
The same researcher asked them how many section 7 reports in 2016 had featured the “Letter to a Judge” and Cafcass replied to say:
In the year 2016-17, a total of 726 cases were flagged as having a ‘Letter to the Judge’ and a S7 report filed on them
There is no ‘norm’ in regards to whether a child will write a letter to the judge and it is not a requirement that all children must write a letter to the judge. The use of the My Needs, Wishes and Feelings tools, including child’s letter to the judge template, is a matter for the practitioner’s professional judgement
There is a concern, as shown elsewhere in these pages and in Parliament, that ascertaining the wishes and feelings of a child in a resident parent’s house, especially in instances where Parental Alienation is being reported is open to abuse and parental coercion. The researcher asked about this and Cafcass replied to say:
Cafcass understands and recognises the potential for implacable hostility by a party and the potential for the ‘alienation’ of a child from one parent in high conflict private law cases. Section 4.19 of the Cafcass Operating Framework makes reference to “implacable hostility” which may lead to “alienation” of a child from one parent, and sets out how we assess such issues in our cases.
We encourage staff to use the ‘Impact of Parental Conflict Tool’ in their direct work with children, where this is relevant and where the FCA consider its use is appropriate to the needs of the case. The use of this tool is a matter for the practitioner’s professional judgement. If its use is deemed appropriate by the practitioner, as explained on our website, it is suggested to be used post interview to analyse the impact of parental conflict and the level of parental influence on a child’s wishes and feelings.
It is designed to help identify and clarify any emotionally harmful influence of one or both parents on the child. When using the tool, practitioners should refer to the tool and the analysis in the relevant section of the section 7 report.
We already know from earlier research that the “Impact of Parental Conflict Tool” is not fit for use, that it hasn’t been updated in years and that it really shouldn’t be used in it’s current form. We also know that Cafcass provide no training to their FCAs on the use of this tool or any real guidance on how to understand it or report on it.
A better reference would be the training that Cafcass provide on Coached Children Knowledge Bite but we know that hardly any of their FCAs have completed this training.
The researcher wanted to understand when Cafcass recognised that Children also have the right NOT to be involved in court cases, especially considering the guidance handbook and the operating framework saying “if they wish to do so” and “when children wish to“, and so they asked Cafcass: “Please provide a copy of your internal guidance and/or training that relates to identifying when “Children and young people have a right NOT TO PARTICIPATE in difficult decisions that affect their lives”
Cafcass replied to say:
a key part of our work is to enable the appropriate involvement of children in the court proceedings that are about them. Subject to their age and level of understanding, this involves ensuring that children are aware of the proceedings and have the opportunity to participate in them or otherwise contribute to them (United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 12).’
Positively engaging children in their own cases can lead to higher levels of self-esteem and self-confidence, which promotes resilience when growing up with continuing emotional or psychological conflict (UNCRC, Article 12).
The role of Cafcass is to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, taking account of their ascertainable wishes and feelings.
My Needs, Wishes and Feelings tools, can help a young person share their feelings directly with the court, if they wish to do so.
As stated in the My Needs, Wishes and Feelings: Guidance for practitioners, ‘it is our duty to provide opportunities for children to communicate in a way they feel at ease with.
Practitioners should encourage the use of My Needs, Wishes and Feelings, but it is important that children are not coerced into using it.
It is the court, and not Cafcass, the parties or children and young people, that makes the final decisions in the family court proceedings.
…which is a recurring comment of Cafcass when challenged on why they are not either following their own guidance or when they are not following the law. As you can see above Cafcass answered only in the context of children having the right to participate and not in the case of a child NOT WANTING TO participate.
The researcher asked them to clarify this and asked Cafcass: “You have not provided a response to my question which was specifically targeted at your policies/guidance/training on the rights of children NOT to participate. It may be that you do not provide any guidance/training on the rights of children NOT to participate. Could you confirm whether you provide this guidance/training and of so please could you provide copies of it?”
Cafcass replied to say:
Cafcass does not have specific training or guidance in relation to identifying when “Children and young people have a right not to participate in difficult decisions that affect their lives”.
From our research into the limited Cafcass case files that we have access to we can see that far from explaining to children that they don’t need to take part or get involved in court cases, Cafcass actively encourage children to take part, they interview them in the Resident Parent’s home and they document these interviews as the wishes and feelings of the child. They actively encourage children to complete the Letter to the Judge form (again in the Resident Parent’s home) and they structure their Section 7 report to reflect the wishes and feelings of the child rather than the Welfare of the Child – and this is despite the legislation behind the Welfare Checklist being clear that wishes and feelings are not paramount over any of the other items within the Welfare Checklist.
Worse, Cafcass as an organisation hide behind two things:
- The professional judgement of the Cafcass FCA
- The court ultimately making the decision
How can Cafcass argue that reports are the sole responsibility of a Cafcass FCA if on the one hand they don’t provide adequate training and guidance to these FCAs, and on the other hand they say that every report is quality checked by the FCA’s Team Leader before it is submitted to the court and to the parties.
Secondly, the courts are completely reliant on Cafcass providing accurate reports, quality checked, and compiled to a professional standard. How is it that Cafcass feel able to produce sub-standard reports, obtained during dubious interview standards, and then feel it is appropriate to wash their hands of any decision making by saying that is down to the courts and not Cafcass.
Cafcass also say:
The best interests of the child or young person should always be the core principle of any interview, which aims to understand their unique experience
Have Cafcass no shame?
Wishes and feelings are terribly important, but also terribly misused. Children do NOT want to be caught in the middle. They do NOT want to be influenced, coerced, or coached. They do NOT want to be misrepresented. They do NOT want to feel guilty for decisions forced or coached out of them that impact on their emotional well being in the years to come.
For Cafcass to use wishes and feelings to justify the poor quality of their investigations and reporting is despicable.
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.