A new telephone service for children and young people involved in family court proceedings has been launched by independent advice organisation CAFCASS. Chartered Legal Executive Shelley Workman welcomes the move.
The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) recently introduced a new service where children and young people can call them directly to ask questions, make a complaint or give feedback on their family court proceedings.
CAFCASS acts completely impartially to advise family courts as to what is both safe for children and what is in their best interests. Above all, they put the needs of the child first and allow their voice to be heard.
Well-versed in family law, they are independent of the courts and social services. CAFCASS support over 140,000 children by speaking for them when the family court makes decisions concerning their welfare.
The ‘Hear to Listen’ Service
During family court proceedings, CAFCASS advise the court about what is safe for children and what is in their best interests. They will consider whether there are any safeguarding concerns but also the child’s feelings, thoughts, and wishes. They can then compile a report for the court of their recommendations of what arrangements are in the child’s best interests in the interim and long term.
Sometimes, young people might be confused or unsatisfied with this outcome for various reasons. For example, if there are safeguarding concerns and an indirect contact order (usually an order for contact by way of letters or cards) is made, the child may ask why they cannot see their other parent.
‘The Hear to Listen’ service will allow them to voice their feedback or ask why a decision was made. For example, CAFCASS may explain how they interpreted the situation and the child’s wishes and feelings, and the reasons why. From there, a further appointment can be made if necessary to deal with more in-depth questions.
If the case has not been closed and is ongoing, this might signal a more current issue that the child can discuss with CAFCASS. If something happens that the young person does not want to tell their parents or cannot tell them directly, the service can help. The call will be directed to their allocated Family Court Adviser who will contact them to explain what is happening at that time and deal with any current issues.
Overall, the CAFCASS service creates a safe space for young people to explain what is happening and how it is making them feel. It also functions as a way for them to further improve their family court follow-up service and their service in general.
Are there any risks associated with the service?
It goes without saying that there will always be some risks where children are involved. For example, one parent may try to influence or encourage a child to misuse the phone line in order to make things more difficult for the other parent. However, CAFCASS are trained professionals, and they will be live to such issues, so hopefully any abuse of this facility will be minimal.
Wherever possible it is, of course, best for children not to be directly involved in a family court case. CAFCASS’ services are there to understand how a young person is coping within the family law system. Instead, if there is an ongoing issue, parents are encouraged to contact CAFCASS directly.
Will this make a difference?
The service is relatively new. However, before this, there would not have been a service like it offered to children post-family court proceedings. CAFCASS has worked with the Family Justice Young People’s Board (FJYPB) to make this phone service as accessible and as positive as possible.
Feedback is always helpful. Whether it’s positive or negative—CAFCASS will then know where changes need to be made. This can only be good for young people.
Family law can feel complex and be a highly emotional experience for a young person and the family members involved. This service will give the young people the right to say how they feel and raise questions around the decisions of the family court.
Overall, the service will need to be highly monitored and take age, case severity and feelings into account. We welcome this move from CAFCASS, but the service must be used in the right way.
At Coodes Solicitors, we have an experienced team of family lawyers. They can handle all types of matters professionally and sympathetically. If you require family law services or are involved in family court proceedings, get in touch.