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7.5 Welfare Reports (Section 7) Supervision Order (Section 37) Family Assistance Orders (Section 16)

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This chapter CLARIFIES where the responsibility lies for completing reports for court.

RELEVANT LEGISLATION

Children Act 1989

AMENDMENT

In January 2016, this chapter was extensively updated and should be re-read throughout.


Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. CAFCASS
  3. Reports
  4. Principles Underpinning the Allocation of Responsibilities between Departments for Welfare Reports (Section 7)
  5. Welfare Reports (Section 7) 
  6. Standards/Guidance on Welfare Reports (Section 7) 
  7. Supervision Order (Section 37) - Directions to the Local Authority
  8. Family Assistance Orders (Section 16)


1. Introduction

The predominant focus of CAFCASS Private Law is to provide a report writing service for the Court which will allow the Court to make decisions in disputed cases that are in the best interests of the children. Opportunities will be pursued for dispute resolution and for the avoidance of fully contested hearings wherever that seems in the best interests of the children.

The predominant focus of Children's Social Care is to provide a service in the community which aims at assessment of Children in Need as defined in law and local policy, including Child Protection investigations; and which aims to Look After some children.

Both services will share information relevant to an enquiry from an officer producing a Welfare Report. It is acknowledged that there will be occasions during the Children and Family Reporter's conduct of responsibilities to the Court, that the Children's Social Care Service may become involved because of information requiring Child Protection Investigations. Both will work together and each has a responsibility for notifying the Court of any change affecting proceedings.


2. CAFCASS

CAFCASS provides a duty system on some days at the Nottingham County Court (currently Tuesday and Thursday), for Children's Directions at Mansfield County Court (Thursday) and for Children's Directions appointments in the Magistrates' Courts in all parts of the County.


3. Reports

If Courts are in any doubt about the appropriate agency when a referral for reports is considered, the Children and Family Reporter can be asked to give assistance. The reporting agency will be determined by the primary role of the respective agencies and reporting responsibilities set out in this policy.

The existence of a dispute should not be an automatic 'trigger' for a referral for reports.

It is the expectation of both services that referrals should not normally be made unless there has been an opportunity for the Court and, where possible, CAFCASS, to discuss the application with the parties.

The only exception is where the Court considers that a child may be at risk of Significant Harm and that a Care or Supervision Order may be relevant and directs a Local Authority to investigate and report under Section 37.

Both services will endeavour to prepare reports as speedily as is consistent with good practice and available resources. Where reports are required, it is important to ensure that any timescale can be fulfilled if this is fixed at the referral stage. It is recognised that other factors may cause delays, including the provision of paperwork by the Court, and lack of co-operation from the parties in the case.

If extensions to any fixed schedule are required for any reasons - the respective service will seek an extension from the Court.

Courts referring for Section 7 Reports are asked to send copy background papers with the order and/or to ask solicitors for the parties to forward an explanation about what has triggered the referral. The reporting department, if it has a key question about the scope or nature of enquiries may seek further directions from the Court.

Courts send papers in Nottinghamshire for:

Section 7 reports from CAFCASS

CAFCASS, 2a Castlebridge Office Village, Castle Marina Road, Nottingham, NG7 1TP.

Tel: 0300 4564000
Section 7 reports from the Local Authority Notts. County CSCS Child Care Legal Services, County Hall West Bridgford or Business Support, Court Team, Sherwood Energy Village, Ollerton, Newark, Nottinghamshire, NG22 9FF
Section 37 reports from the Local Authority
i.e. where child currently 'looked after', Supervision Order, Child Protection Investigation or Plan
Notts. County CSCS Child Care Legal Services, County Hall West Bridgford or Business Support, Court Team, Sherwood Energy Village, Ollerton, Newark, Nottinghamshire, NG22 9FF

The receiving department is responsible for completing the report or obtaining the direct agreement of the other service to do it.

When the receiving department wish to ask the other service to do the report:

  • There must be clear explicit reasons for varying from the policy framework;
  • The request must be made within 2 weeks of receipt of the order (given that the normal timescale for completion is 8 weeks from the order).

If there is no agreement between the services, the order must be complied with, i.e. the receiving department does the report.

If there is an agreed transfer - the enquiries/report should be started by the agreed department whilst both services write to the Court saying what has been agreed and asking for the order to be varied to the new department.

Where a fresh cause for an investigation into actual or likely Significant Harm to a child arises during a Section 7 report, it may be appropriate to notify the Court and ask for direction for a Section 37 report, if emergency protection or other steps are not taken or at the very least to suspend enquiries pending the resolution of any Child Protection issues.

Liaison between the departments about proposed transfers or difficulties in applying the policy framework should occur between Team Manager CAFCASS and the relevant Children's Social Care Team Manager.


4. Principles Underpinning the Allocation of Responsibilities between Departments for Welfare Reports (Section 7)

It is agreed that the primary responsibility for the preparation of most Section 7 welfare reports lies with CAFCASS.

The nature and extent of any current direct Children's Social Care assessment information regarding the family affects whether it or CAFCASS should provide the report. Children's Social Care will complete a Section 7 report where it has a current full assessment or duties to do so by reason of Looking After a child or a Supervision Order or by a current Child Protection Enquiry or plan. CAFCASS will provide advice.

The Agreed Allocation of Responsibilities for Welfare (S.7) Reports

CAFCASS

Family/Carer not known to Children's Social Care Service

Adult Case

Child Care case, but not current

Children's Social Care Service

Child Care case, but not current -normally this would fall to CAFCASS, but there might be reasons when the report might more appropriately come from Social Care, for instance, where involvement is very recent (within 3 months of closure), and where a Child and Family Assessment has been completed

Child Care case, current:

Child subject to Child Protection Enquiry/Child Protection plan

Child looked after by NCC

Child subject to a Supervision Order to NCC

ALL other cases: If CAFCASS have started an enquiry and a family or child subsequently falls into any other category, CAFCASS should continue the report with advice from Social Care. If the child is subsequently cared for under Section 20 of Children's Act - Social Care will undertake the report.

Generally the above agency boundaries will cover most situations. However, CAFCASS should seek the advice of Social Care, where the current application if granted has the potential to cause significant welfare concern.

Where there is a disagreement about the subsequent interpretation of this protocol there should be a discussion between the CAFCASS Service Manager and Social Care Services Service Manager. This will also apply where a court may have misinterpreted the protocol and this discussion should happen as soon as possible to facilitate any transfer of direction. Any discussion should take account of the best interest of the child.

In all cases where responsibility for a Section 7 report needs to be negotiated, this need to be considered a priority bearing in mind the timescales indicated.

In cases where the Social Care Service provides information to CAFCASS for inclusion in a Section 7 report, it needs to be recognised that in the event of a contested hearing the social worker may be asked to attend court.


5. Welfare Reports (Section 7)

In general, "Private Law" matters arise because of disputes between parents or other interested parties such as grandparents. The author of a Section 7 report will seek to establish, having regard to the circumstances and the perceptions of the persons relevant to the child, whether or not an order is necessary and in the best interests of the child. The requirements are to investigate the circumstances of the child in question, guided by the Welfare Checklist and bearing in mind the issues that were before the Court.

The Section 8 Orders which may be under consideration are:

  • A Prohibited Steps Order;
  • A Child Arrangements Order;
  • A Specific Issue Order.

Arrangements for interviews in order to prepare a report should be sufficiently flexible to ensure that parties are able to be seen in a manner which respects their circumstances, whether separately or together and which meets the requirements of the Court as well as the needs of children. Invitations to parties to attend joint or family meetings are an accepted part of practice, but they may choose to be seen separately if they wish.

In considering the child's ascertainable wishes and feelings, each service will guard against making children feel inappropriately responsible for decisions about their future. Each service will try to encourage parents to understand their children's wishes and feelings, so as to take them into account in reaching joint decisions.

Each service will ensure that attention will be paid in all reports to a child's race, religion, language and culture as part of their background in considering any recommendations.

In all cases the report writer should check for existing information from own agency index/records and the safeguarding children information management team (SCIMT). This includes checks of any new partner where one is part of the proposed care arrangements.

If, as part of the enquiries, the report writer has reasons to suspect past harm to children by an existing or proposed new partner:

  1. Obtain full names, dates of birth and previous residence within the last five years of all household members over 16 years old in the household(s) involved in the enquiry;
  2. Inform those persons that records checks will be made and ask if they have anything to acknowledge and explain beforehand;
  3. Seek information from:
    • Social Care records;
    • Probation records;
    • Child Protection Register;

      And these also in any other area of residence within the previous five years.
  4. Seek information from Police records;

    The provision of criminal records information for the purposes of a Section 7 report to Court is envisaged by the relevant Home Office Circular. The person's consent is desirable, but not required for this purpose;

    The children and family reporter or social worker producing the report for Court:
    • Should write directly to ask for Police information;
    • To Nottinghamshire Constabulary HQ, CRO, Sherwood Lodge, Arnold, Nottingham, NG5 8PP or subsequently to the Disclosure and Barring Service. The pro forma/letter should specify:
    • Court, proceedings and type of report and requested receipt date;
    • Persons to be checked, full surnames, personal names, dates of birth;
    • Address and any previous in last 5 years;
    • Reporting officer's name, status, address, telephone number and date of request.
  5. Where checks with these statutory agencies are not possible - the report writer must check own agency and SCIMT as this is within the agency's control. A person refusing information must still be asked if they have been a party to offences against children, had children removed from their care, or been convicted or any offence of violent or sexual nature, or been removed from caring, or prohibited to care, for children. (These are matters covered in Persons who Present a Risk to Children -. Any refusal of information must be highlighted in the report to the Court.
  6. Describe record checks, responses and any information arising in the report to the Court.
  7. Information arising during the course of preparing the report which would normally lead to a decision by the Social Care Services to start a Section 47 investigation should be acted upon under the Child Protection Procedures. If appropriate, the service producing the report should ask for a Directions Hearing.

Upon receipt of the request for a Section 7 report, it is helpful to write to the Court and acknowledge the timescale in which it is expected that you could provide the report if existing timescale is problematic.

Arrangements should be made to see all the parties for the purpose of gathering the facts and forming your opinion on the best disposal of the matters which are before the Court.


6. Standards/Guidance on Welfare Reports (Section 7)

The following are derived from Home Office guidelines and the DoH publication "Reporting to Court under the Children Act."

When a welfare report had been ordered by a Court, such a report must be prepared unless the Court rescinds its original order. As a party, the Children and Family Reporter is legally entitled to request a hearing to rescind a requirement for a report, or seek further directions or adjournments as appropriate.

All reports should be prefaced by a general information sheet naming the Court, the number of the matter, who the parties and children are, and the matter in dispute.  The front sheet should contain the standard caption regarding confidentiality. (This reads: "this report has been prepared for the Court, and should be treated as confidential. It must not be shown, nor its contents revealed to any person other than a party or legal adviser to such a party. Such legal adviser may make use of the report in connection with an application for LSC funding").

Reports should reflect respect for the cultural experiences and expectations of the parties and be written in language familiar to and understood by the family. In cases where to do otherwise would disadvantage either party and where so agreed, they should be translated in the first language of the party or parties.

All reports must have regard to the Welfare Checklist and the presumption of No Order, as intended in the Children Act 1989.

The report should be written with numbered paragraphs and with headings for ease of reference.

Two types of report may be prepared for the Court, either a report signifying an agreement between the parties or a full welfare report to enable the Court to make a decision:

If an agreement is reached, the welfare report will be brief. It will identify the enquiries made, the concise background, the work undertaken, the nature of the resolution reached. The report should cover any issues identified by the Court. Comment will be made on the agreement in the light of the Welfare Checklist. If, in spite of the agreement, an order is desirable, the reasons should be set out.

If the report is a full welfare report, the following core information should be included:

  1. The authority of the report - basis of referral, who liaised/consulted with, workers involved; sources of info, enquiries undertaken. Whether child seen and if not, the reasons for not so doing;
  2. What the issue was and what the current situation is;
  3. Relevant information, e.g. significant landmarks, contextual background;
  4. Proposals of parties for arrangements for child/children;
  5. Child/children's situation in the context of welfare checklist and conclusions in relation to them;
  6. Recommendation/opinion.

In the event of there being no agreement between the parties, the report should indicate and leave scope for any areas for future negotiation. Care must be taken to provide a balanced report which, although comprehensive, should be as concise as possible and free from jargon. By restating the conflict simply, and by reframing positively, the parties can be left with some hope.

If any evidence or indications of harm or likelihood of harm to a child is presented to or discovered by the children and Family Reporter, local child protection procedures must be followed. Application may need to be made to the Court to suspend inquiries.

It is important that information given in the report is verified, personal opinions and assessments should be clearly stated as such, backed by authority and reasons.

All reports should be focussed on the issue(s) and should exclude extraneous information.

A record of each contact with any of the parties should be kept in very brief form.

Specific Contents: The Parents - reports should contain where possible:
  1. The plans of the parties for future joint parenting and the likely level of their future communication and co-operation with each other;
  2. The extent to which parental conflict might be significant in respect of the children's continuing relationship with their parents;
  3. The parents' ethnic, religious and moral values and beliefs which may have a bearing on the children and any cross-cultural implications which need to be considered;
  4. The capabilities of the parents to meet the needs of their children.

The Children

Consider the welfare checklist as follows:

  1. If the children are of sufficient age and understanding, their wishes and feelings in respect of the matters in dispute; the context in which they express their views (influence of parents with whom they live; circumstances and place of meeting; their understanding of the issues at stake; with which parent the meeting takes place). The report should reflect the weight their wishes should carry and whether the conclusion is in their best interests;
  2. The child's physical, emotional and educational needs, what significant relationships the children currently experience with other children in the family, friends, the extended family. How their school, hobbies and social activities impinge upon these. Progress reports from schools should be considered. If the children are under school age, views of Health Visitors or any other professionals involved in the family;
  3. The likely effect on the child of any change of circumstances, such as security of accommodation, new partners, possible substantial geographical movement, change of address of mother or father;
  4. Evidence of harm in the past, or the likelihood of harm in the future. Any history of violence. If necessary, refer to Police, NSPCC, Probation or Children's Social Care Service.

The Assessment and Recommendation

  1. An assessment of the information contained in the report should be made in such a way that it is easily understood by the parties and leaves room for further options in respect of the children as time progresses;
  2. In the event of continuing dispute the report should set out the pros and cons of the parties' proposals for each child. The damaging effect of the continuing conflict should be summarised and any proposal to alleviate the situation posed;
  3. Where appropriate the report should include any independent recommendation or other options by the Children and Family Reporter in the light of the family dispute and the children's situation as demonstrated by the Welfare Checklist;
  4. The need for an order should be considered, including the possibility of other decision (the Courts range of powers under the Children Act).

Quality Check Arrangements: The report must be agreed by the responsible Team manager before it is submitted to the court.

Share content of report with parties, unless to do so would act against the best interest of children by further unhelpfully opening up or prolonging the conflict. In any event, parties should be aware of the thinking of the report writer and the final report should not present any surprises. A copy should be served on them or on their legal representative.

Lodge completed report at Court as directed, usually 14 days before the hearing. You need not attend the hearing, unless required to do so by the Court.


7. Supervision Order (Section 37) - Directions to the Local Authority

A Family Court may order the Local Authority to enquire and report into a case (which is before it as a private application) where the Court believes that a Care or Supervision Order may be appropriate.

In effect, this means that the Court must consider that there is a risk of Significant Harm to the child to make a Section 37 Order. (This is distinct from investigations of uncertainties about a child's welfare - which is the function of a Section 7 report). The Court may appoint a Children's Guardian who will also report to the Court.

  1. The responsibility for investigating and reporting lies with the Social Care Service;
  2. The Nottinghamshire and Nottingham City Safeguarding Children Boards’ Safeguarding Children Procedures apply;
  3. Section 37 requires the report to be provided within 8 weeks or such other period decided by the Court.

The purpose of the Section 37 is for the Local Authority to consider whether it should:

  1. Apply for a Care Order or Supervision Order in respect of the child;
  2. Provide other services or assistance for the child or family;
  3. Take any other action with respect to the child.

The Children's Social Care Service will make full enquiries into the information and the circumstances, i.e. to conduct a Child Protection Investigation as it would under Section 47 and to identify other agency information through the ) The Nottinghamshire Safeguarding Children Board Safeguarding Children Procedures. If it is appropriate, a Child Protection Conference will be convened before the report is finalised.

Procedures

The Family Court will immediately refer a Section 37 direction to the Child Care Legal Services Section. Any information available to the Children and Family Reporter will also be conveyed. The Family Courts have agreed to ask private solicitors present at the Court to summarise the information indicative of harm and to forward this to the relevant Child Care Legal Services Section.

The relevant Legal Section will immediately communicate this information to the Locality/Area Children's Services Manager responsible for links with Family Court proceedings. Allocation by the Team Manager and investigation will commence. The advice of Legal Services and representation in Court may be required in these investigations if the case is very complex or if, after an assessment has taken place, threshold needs to be determined.

There is a stricter time period for reporting to Court. This is within 8 weeks or other such period as the Court directs. If the enquiries will take longer than the Court's timescale, the Team Manager will contact the Court to request an extension.

If at any stage Social Care Service conclude that further enquiries are not appropriate, the social worker's report to Court should cover the extent of the information up to that point and the reasons for any conclusion.

The Team Manager, in discussion with the social worker will come to a view as to whether or not a Care or Supervision Order application is indicated. Any such recommendation must be agreed with the relevant Children’s Service Manager before it is included as part of the report to court. The report must include clear reasons for any such recommendation. The report should cover the family details, family background, the finding of the assessment and conclusion. The report should detail any service or assistance which has already been provided or which is proposed to be provided to the child and family. If any other action is proposed, this must be outlined. The report should have regard to the contents outlined in Section 3 of this policy and be approved by the Team Manager.


8. Family Assistance Orders (Section 16)

This order may be made in private or public applications. The emphasis is upon short-term involvement and giving assistance to families.

The two Departments would require any Family Assistance Order to have a very specific remit that has goals which can be achieved within the six month timescale. General support requirements would not be exceptional or specific enough.

The Order may name children or an adult or adults with whom a child lives or have a Child Arrangements Order, subject to their consent. The emphasis is on help and assistance and cannot be construed as a safety measure where the Court is uneasy as to the situation in which a child might be placed.

The Court has power to make Family Assistance Orders nominating either the Local Authority or an Officer of CAFCASS to undertake the work. It is important that the Court is aware of how the services expect such orders to operate.

The two services will usually operate from a different role:

  1. CAFCASS will typically be involved in a range of cases where there is a dispute to be resolved, but where child care issues as such are minimal;
  2. The Social Care Services will be involved in a range of cases where their role is normally pre-established by matters related to Children in Need or Child Protection.

A Family Assistance Order is seen as a provision which will be carried out generally by a Children and Family Reporter. Children Act 1989 Guidance Vol. 1 describes the purpose of the Order being to assist families through transitional difficulties arising from separation or divorce, with a focus on adults, not to supervise the safety of children.

If a Family Assistance Order is considered, it is essential that a Court has the benefit of a Section 7 Report before making an Order. Given the short-term nature of Orders, it is not expected that the Agency preparing the report will normally recommend a Family Assistance Order to its counterpart. Should such a step be proposed, neither service would recommend an Order without prior discussion and agreement with the appropriate worker, or where there is none, the responsible Team Manager. Furthermore, it would seem highly desirable that the Court is clear that the help it may seek for an individual of family:

  1. Exists and can be provided and is not available elsewhere;
  2. Is feasible in the circumstances;
  3. Has the consent of the individual(s) concerned unless that person is a child;
  4. Is preferable to no Order being made;
  5. Cannot be provided on the basis of voluntary contact.

End