Info & Advice

Can I disagree with CAFCASS and will judges always agree with the report?

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When you receive a report from CAFCASS in children proceedings, it can be hard to work out what to do if you disagree with its findings or what has been said about you. In this article, we look at what you can do if you disagree and whether the judge will always agree with report recommendations.

Does a judge always follow the recommendations in a CAFCASS report?

The judge does not always follow the recommendations in a CAFCASS report, although they are more likely than not to do so. If the court departs from CAFCASS recommendations, it must provide written reasons for doing so and allow parties to appeal the decision, if necessary.

However, it is possible to challenge a report, and a parent should consider this as an option if they do not think the contents are accurate or that the recommendations are in their child’s best interests.

How do I challenge a CAFCASS report?

Firstly, reject your gut reaction to call or email CAFCASS giving them a piece of your mind. Instead, take some time to reflect on the contents of the report and think about whether the CAFCASS officer got their facts wrong or whether you simply disagree with their interpretation of the facts and their recommendations.

You may also disagree with the approach taken by the CAFCASS officer in preparing the report. Perhaps the CAFCASS officer was wrong to conclude you had limited parenting skills or a fractured bond with your child if they failed to observe a contact visit as part of their investigations. Or only reported what the other parent said and accepted it as fact. You may think the CAFCASS officer has not adequately considered the welfare checklist or given sufficient weight to it, for example, by not taking the wishes and feelings of your child into account.

Options to these types of issue is to ask the court to order the CAFCASS officer to file an addendum report to address any outstanding areas. You can also ask the court for permission to instruct an expert, such as a child psychologist.

If the application ends in a contested final hearing, your solicitor will have the opportunity to cross-examine the CAFCASS officer and ask them questions based on your review of the report. Your solicitor can also ask them questions on the nature and extent of their enquiries and recommendations. A CAFCASS officer must attend a final hearing, so it is important your solicitor and the judge know you wish to challenge the report.

In reality, challenging the findings and recommendations in a CAFCASS report is not an easy task, and it is often better to work with CAFCASS to try to get a report that you are happy with. Sometimes a more subtle approach works best, perhaps focussing your challenge on whether the CAFCASS recommendations really are in the child’s best interests.

What things should I consider before challenging a CAFCASS report?

The court holds CAFCASS in high regard because they are experts in their area and have a working knowledge of the law. In reality, challenging a report is an uphill one. If you are concerned about the quality of the report, here are some things to consider:

  • If the report contains a few minor errors, consider whether this will affect the overall view of the court. For example, your child’s name spelled incorrectly in a couple of places is not the smoking gun you think it is.
  • Major factual errors should be challenged. But this can be achieved by asking the officer to address it, not bringing it up in court at the last minute.
  • Does the report treat the children as individuals? Grouping children together may show a lack of analysis.
  • Did the CAFCASS officer check everything asked of them in the court order? If not, you may have a reason to challenge the report.
  • Has there been a proper analysis of the facts or has the officer just reported what they have been told by the other party as fact? Analysis should address the questions of how and why, not what happened.
  • Did the CAFCASS officer rely on something as fact which is a matter for the court to decide? Allegations are not the same thing, and should not be treated as fact, especially where a court has made no finding.
  • Did the officer challenge versions of events where they are self-reported or appear to be self-serving?
  • Did the officer approach the relevant people/organisations, such as the child’s GP or school?
  • Does the report address the welfare checklist? If not, the report may be too flawed to rely on.

If you are merely disgruntled about the report’s contents, any challenge is likely to be doomed to failure. CAFCASS reports rarely make comfortable reading and tend to be written in measured language which can often feel as though it lacks empathy. The role of CAFCASS is to focus on the needs of the child, not on the needs of the parents. So if you intend to challenge a report, you must ensure you have something concrete to rely on.

Can I make a formal complaint about the report to CAFCASS?

It is important to note that any complaint made to CAFCASS should be made as soon as possible and before the court makes its decision. This is because it can be extremely difficult to put things right after the court order has been made and your case closed.

If you are unhappy with a report, you should, in the first instance, make a complaint direct to CAFCASS. A member of the team will contact you to get a full picture of the issues and discuss the steps you want them to take. They will also talk to the CAFCASS officer and provide you with a written response.

If your complaint surrounds the CAFCASS officers opinion such as the recommendations made their report, they will send the court a copy of the complaint together with their response so that it can take this into account in any decision it makes.

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