Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service

Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service
Abbreviation Cafcass
Formation April 1, 2001
Type Non-departmental public body
Purpose Reporting to Courts on the Safeguarding and welfare of children involved in Public and Private law Family proceedings
Region served
Chief Executive
Anthony Douglas[1]
Parent organization
Ministry of Justice

The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) is a non-departmental public body in England set up to promote the welfare of children and families involved in family court. It was formed in April 2001 under the provisions of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 and is accountable to Parliament through the Ministry of Justice. Cafcass is independent of the courts, social services, education, health authorities and all similar agencies.[2]


Court proceedings for which Cafcass may provide support include:[2]

Cafcass' function is set out in Section 12(1) Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 which states:

“In respect of family proceedings in which the welfare of children is or may be in question, it is a function of [Cafcass] to:

(a) safeguard and promote the welfare of the children

(b) give advice to any court about any application made to it in such proceedings

(c) make provision for the children to be represented in such proceedings

(d) provide information, advice and other support for the children and their families.”[3]


The provisions of court welfare services were the subject of two reviews. The Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR)[4] and a subsequent review[5] conducted jointly by the Home Office, the Lord Chancellor’s Department and the Department of Health concluded that a new integrated service subsuming these functions could improve service to the courts, better safeguard the interests of children, reduce wasteful overlaps and increase efficiency.[6]

The services spanned England and Wales and included: Family Court Welfare (FCW) (54 areas); the Guardian ad litem and Reporting Officer (GALRO) Service (59 panels) and the children’s work of the Official Solicitor’s (OS) Department.

The Home Office stated: "The review announced by the Home Secretary on July 16, 1997 into the relationship between the Prison Service and probation service may herald important changes to the structure, organisation, management, working practices, human resources and funding of the probation service. Both the prison-probation review and the Comprehensive Spending Review should result in steps which should improve public confidence in community penalties."[7]

The Home Office Prison-Probation review consultation paper[8] did not mention family court welfare given that family court welfare was to move to a new unified family court welfare service.[9]

The government then announced a unified family court welfare service.[10] Among many key to be addressed were ensuring:

These were addressed by a Project Team.[11]

The Criminal Justice and Court Services Bill[12] was led by the Home Office as most of the Bill’s provisions concerned the establishment of a National Probation Service for England and Wales. A few parts concerned Cafcass arrangements.[13]

The Bill completed its Parliamentary stages in Autumn 2000.[14] The Act’s Cafcass provisions were set to commence on April 1, 2001.[15] The short timeline created problems that took Cafcass years to resolve.

Cafcass functions were to “(a)safeguard and promote the welfare of the children,(b)give advice to the court about any application made to it in such proceedings,(c) make provision for children to be represented in such proceedings,(d) provide information, advice and other support for the children and their families.”[16]

Subordinate legislation set out the duties of Cafcass practitioners.

In 2004 Cafcass published a policy and procedure to do with domestic violence.

As of April 1, 2005, responsibility for the functions of Cafcass in Wales, known as CAFCASS Cymru, became the responsibility of the National Assembly for Wales.

Following the changes within Welsh Government in 2007, CAFCASS Cymru became part of the Department for Health and Social Services.[17]

In 2005/06 Cafcass produced the consultation document Every Day Matters that led to a draft set of National Standards. These standards set out what service users, partner agencies and practitioners in the family justice system could expect. The Standards updated the 2003 Cafcass Service Standards and Principles, and after piloting in the North-East Region, were phased in from April 1, 2007.

The standards noted the importance of service-user feedback and the active engagement and participation of children in their case planning process. Cafcass asserted the importance of including children's views in the decision making processes involved in court proceedings. Young people could offer a "Needs, Wishes and Feelings" statement directly to the judge. However, Cafcass admitted that they do not conform to any National Standards.

The Children's Rights Team spearheaded the formation of a Young People's Board for Cafcass. This Board consists of 12 young people with experience of Cafcass's services. Since the Board's formation in August 2006 they helped to shape Cafcass policies and procedures.

In 2011 the Family Justice Review, final report stated the following about the Young People’s Board:

We have been impressed by the valuable work undertaken by the Cafcass Young People’s Board. They provide an important perspective on the work of the family justice system and offer an intelligent and energetic challenge to the board of Cafcass. We believe that this work should be maintained through a Young People’s Board for the Family Justice Service, with a remit to consider issues in both public and private law and to report directly to the service.’[18]

The Young People’s Board was expanded to cover the family justice system on a national scale and is now called The Family Justice Young People's Board. The Family Justice Young People’s Board (FJYPB) is a group of over 40 children and young people aged between 8 and 25 years old who live across England. All members have either had direct experience of the family justice system or have an interest in children’s rights and the family courts. The FJYPB is a permanent sub-group of the national Family Justice Board (FJB) and is responsible to this board. Two members of the FJYPB regularly attend FJB meetings.[19]

In 2012 Cafcass published its Operating Framework which sets out how Cafcass meets their responsibilities as a family court social work service to children and young people, to courts and to family members, as required by legislation.[20]


On April 1, 2014, responsibility for Cafcass in England transferred from the Department for Education to the Ministry of Justice.

Baroness Claire Tyler of Enfield is the current Chair of the Cafcass Board, which includes ten other members..

The Cafcass Board is made up of non-executive members appointed in accordance with the Membership, Committee and Procedure Regulations 2005. The Cafcass Board establishes the overall strategic aims and objectives for Cafcass consistent with the strategic policy objectives determined by the Secretary of State. It meets quarterly to monitor the performance of Cafcass and is accountable for Cafcass fulfilling its functions.[21]

The work of the Board is supported by three main sub-committees chaired by Board members:

There is also a Remuneration Committee which is convened as and when needed.[21]

The current Chief Executive and Accounting Officer for Cafcass is Anthony Douglas, who is personally responsible and accountable to Parliament for the day-to-day operations, management and leadership of Cafcass and its handling of public funds administered to it. The Chief Executive is supported by the Corporate Management Team.[22]

DNA scheme Regulations came into effect on November 23, 2015 with Cafcass and Cafcass Cymru funding a new DNA scheme under section 20 of the Family Law Reform Act 1969.[23]


During 2015-16, Cafcass worked with 116,104 children and young people across England.[21] Cafcass is asked by family courts to become involved in public and private law cases as the independent voice of the child, advising the court on the issues children are facing, usually through recommendations they set out in reports to court. The primary aim is to reduce the risks to a child’s health and wellbeing and to promote their welfare and development.[21] Cafcass has published a strategic plan for 2015-2020 ‘a stronger voice for the child’ which sets out its strategic priorities and its programmes to deliver these.[24]

Cafcass is set Key Performance Indicator (KPI) targets by their sponsor department, the Ministry of Justice. The table below shows the KPI figures for 2015/16.[21]

Key Performance Indicator Target 2015/16 Performance
Public care cases allocated to Children’s Guardian at month end 97% 99.7%
Average working days to allocate Children’s Guardian to care case < 3 working days 0.7 days
Private law cases allocated to Family Court Adviser at month end 97% 98.7%
Private law section 7 reports filed by agreed date 97% 98.8%

Public law: Between April 2015 and March 2016, Cafcass received 12,741 care applications. This figure is 14.2% (1,582 applications) higher than the same period the previous year and 20% (2,121 applications) higher when compared with the same period in 2013. On average Cafcass has received in excess of 1,000 new care applications per month during 2015-16.[21]

Private law: Cafcass received a total of 37,649 private law cases between April and March. This figure is 10.3% higher (3,530 cases) than 2014-15. On average Cafcass received in excess of 3,100 new private law cases per month during 2015-16.[21]

Ofsted has a duty to inspect Cafcass under section 143 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 which requires the Chief Inspector of Education, Children’s Services and Skills to inspect the performance of Cafcass functions. The current Cafcass inspection framework replaced the previous tri- annual inspection of each of the 17 Cafcass service areas with one annual national inspection.[25] Cafcass had its first national Ofsted inspection in March 2014 and the overall judgement was ‘good’ with an ‘outstanding’ judgement for leadership and governance.[26]

Cafcass publishes an annual report of its activities together with its audited accounts after the end of each financial year. Cafcass provides to the Ministry of Justice its finalised (audited) accounts in line with HM Treasury guidelines.[21]

Cafcass produces an annual Quality Account which annually sets out the steps they took to improve their practice, and what they plan to do in the coming year to keep moving forward.[27]

Cafcass is represented on the national Family Justice Board and chairs 10 out of 42 local Family Justice Boards.[21]


In 2008 an Ofsted inspection of Cafcass service users in South Yorkshire concluded that case records often did not show how Cafcass had come to its conclusions.[28] In a post-inspection review in 2009, Ofsted found that in four of nine recommendations, progress was inadequate.[29]

In 2009, Ofsted inspected Cafcass: Lancashire and Cumbria service area (including Blackburn with Darwen and Blackpool). They found Cafcass to be inadequate in equality, diversity, value for money, complaints handling, service responsiveness, performance management, self-evaluation, safeguarding children and improving outcomes for children. The report stated that:

"the service area does not ensure that consistent consideration of the impact of family breakdown on outcomes for children is embedded in all aspects of case planning and reporting to court. The impact of ... the service in ensuring that all children are safe or feel safe is inadequate." [30]

In 2009/10 The Annual Report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Education, Children's Services and Skills found that "(Cafcass) is performing poorly, with four out of the five service areas inspected judged to be inadequate."[31]

In November 2010 a parliamentary Commons Public Affairs Committeefound 'Cafcass as an organisation is not fit for purpose' and 'do not make child based decisions.' [32]

In 2011, presenters to a Justice Select Committee said that Cafcass was 'beyond reform' and 'should be abolished'.[33]

A High Court judge said in 2014 that it appeared to be a practice "widespread across the country" that children were taken into foster care based on reports which family courts "cut and pasted" into their own rulings, without giving the parents the opportunity to view the reports or respond to them.[34]

Similar organisations in other countries


^ Cafcass originally covered England and Wales, but on April 1, 2005, Cafcass Cymru was created with responsibility transferred to the Welsh Assembly.

See also


  1. "Cafcass Corporate Management Team". CAFCASS. Retrieved September 6, 2008.
  2. 1 2 "Cafcass - Putting children and young people first in the family courts | > About Cafcass". Retrieved October 20, 2016.
  3. "Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000". Retrieved October 20, 2016.
  4. June 11, 1997
  5. Autumn 1997
  6. Footnote 6 paragraph 1.4
  7. Annual report 1998/1999, paragraph 13.15
  8. Prison- Probation Review: Home Office (August 1998)
  9. Support Services in Family Proceedings – Future Organisation of Court Welfare Services (Department of Health, Home Office, Lord Chancellor’s Department, Welsh Office) (July 1998): Consultation closed November 13, 1998.
  10. House of Lords July 27, 1999
  11. The Project Team was drawn from the three relevant government departments supplemented by consultants dealing with, for example, IT, payroll, estates and finance.
  12. Presented to the House of Commons on March 15, 2000.
  13. Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 Chapter 11 (sections 11-17) and Schedule 2.
  14. Royal Assent November 30, 2000.
  15. Section 80
  16. Section 12 (1)
  17. "Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service | I want to learn about CAFCASS Cymru". Retrieved October 20, 2016.
  18. "Family Justice Review Final Report" (PDF). November 2011. Archived from the original (PDF) on November 2, 2013. Retrieved October 20, 2016.
  19. "Family Justice Young People's Board". Retrieved October 20, 2016.
  20. Cafcass (2014). "Cafcass Operating Framework" (PDF). Retrieved October 20, 2016.
  21. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Cafcass (July 2016). "Cafcass annual report and accounts 2015 to 2016". Retrieved October 20, 2016.
  22. "Corporate management team". Cafcass. Retrieved October 20, 2016.
  23. "Information for Courts: Cafcass / CAFCASS Cymru funding for DNA tests in Child Arrangements Cases" (PDF). Retrieved October 20, 2016.
  24. Cafcass. "Cafcass strategic plan 2015-2020" (PDF). Cafcass. Retrieved October 20, 2016.
  25. "Ofsted inspections of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service - GOV.UK". Retrieved October 20, 2016.
  26. Ofsted (2014). "Inspection of Cafcass as a national organisation 2014" (PDF). Retrieved October 20, 2016.
  27. Cafcass (2016). "Cafcass Quality Account 2015-16" (PDF). Cafcass. Retrieved October 20, 2016.
  28. "More criticism for CAFCASS from Ofsted", Family Law Week.
  29. Letter re. "Post-inspection review: Ofsted inspection of the experience of Cafcass service users in the family courts in South Yorkshire 2008", July 23, 2009.
  30. "Ofsted’s inspection of Cafcass: Lancashire and Cumbria service area", December 2009.
  31. "Press release: The Annual Report of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Education, Children's Services and Skills 2009/10", November 23, 2010. The National Archives.
  32. "Family Law Week: Commons Public Accounts Committee brands Cafcass 'not fit for purpose'".
  33. "Family Law Week: Justice Committee told that Cafcass is 'beyond reform'".
  34. Cheston, Paul (February 18, 2014). "Cut-and-paste rulings 'let children be taken away from mothers'". London Evening Standard. p. 25.

External links

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