Operation of the Family Courts - Justice Committee Contents

Written evidence from Janet Hayes (FC 58)


Having watched on television the Justice Committee hearing evidence (16 November 2010) on Family Courts I was disappointed by the quality of information given to you.

In my experience of 20 years as a CAFCASS officer [formerly Court Welfare] until my retirement this year, in ALL cases where the Court requested reports, children's views were sought in both private and public proceedings in an age appropriate way by myself and my colleagues. Children, however may well experience their views as not being heard as Courts may not always follow their expressed wishes for reasons of safety or what is assessed as undue pressure from the residential parent. In private law I have numerous examples of children changing their minds, or becoming more willing to express their true views once the residential parent has decided to promote contact or they have met their estranged parent.

Paradoxically, a system at my court where children over the age of nine were brought to court to have a private meeting with a CAFCASS Officer at the first hearing in all private law applications is now being discouraged by CAFCASS. This system often led to an early resolution of matters once both parents heard their children's views and avoided any further Court process.

Most importantly and problematically, as Dr Harne stated CAFCASS has now become a safeguarding agency to which its traditional role of reporting to courts has been subordinated. In my view this fundamental but little recognised shift is the key to understanding CAFCASS current failures.

It is now the case that every application coming before the courts is police and social services checked whereas in the past checks were made in cases where welfare concerns were identified. The consequence of this has been a dramatic increase in bureaucracy often undertaken by agency staff which has diverted resources from the task of report writing.

From these checks CAFCASS Officers are now required to prepare reports on risk as a paper exercise never having met the child or parents. This work has meant that considerably fewer staff are able to undertake face to face assessments for the courts thus creating inordinate delays for children who are thought to be vulnerable or at risk. Ironically therefore a system that attempts to promote the safety of children has had in practice the opposite effect.

November 2010

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