The following letter from CAFCASS was received in response to our blog post blog following the Westminster event ‘What about Henry?’ :
in which we asked for clarification from CAFCASS about some views expressed by the CAFCASS Principal Social Worker. We are grateful to CAFCASS for responding to our call and for participating in discussion on this important topic. Readers are encouraged to share their own views in comments. If you feel you would like to make a more substantial contribution to make you may send a draft guest blog post to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We made a similar request to Women’s Aid to engage in discussion, but so far have not received any response. If we hear anything we will publish an updating post, as we have in this instance with CAFCASS.
[Update : You can read some initial reactions to this letter here]
Dear Lucy & others at the Transparency Project
We read your blog following the Westminster event ‘What about Henry’. As you’ve noted, the event brought out a number of opinions and points on the way the courts deal with domestic abuse today. Unfortunately domestic abuse continues to be a feature in a high number of family proceedings and it is right that events such as this one continue to facilitate the sharing of ideas and challenge where practice needs to be improved.
There was some discussion following the points our Principal Social Worker Sarah Parsons made about Cafcass’ approach where domestic abuse is alleged and the court has not ordered a fact finding hearing. Acknowledging there was some clarification on the day of points made, we thought it would be helpful to set out Cafcass’ position on the role of the Family Court Adviser in relation to fact finding.
It has always been a social work task to investigate and assess. This inevitably involves assessing the credibility and coherence of the information assembled from all sources. We then arrive at a structured professional judgment – or a view – about what constitutes the evidence base, particularly in relation to child impact, which then informs our recommendations. This is nothing new: it is not a change in role or approach of Cafcass. The distinction between our forming a view and a formal finding of fact hearing is a crucial one. Some cases require a formal finding of fact or facts by a court, but not all cases.
It is not our role to decide on disputed facts and there is no suggestion that we are the final arbiter. We add value to the decision making process in family proceedings by assessing what is in a child’s best interests. Our role is quite rightly limited to making a recommendation, based on our assessment and view formed.
We look forward to reading the TP guidance [on] domestic abuse and how it is dealt with in courts.
Head of Communications