Checks to safeguard you and your children

Before you go to court for the first time, the Child and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) are required to carry out some checks to see if there are any concerns for you or the children involved in court proceedings.

CAFCASS are responsible for looking after the welfare of the children involved in Family Court cases. Their staff are usually social workers, trained to advise the court on what is best for the children.

CAFCASS will write to you before your court hearing to let you know how they will be involved.  They will also call you before the hearing to get more information about you, your circumstances and how the children are. CAFCASS may not meet you or the children before the first hearing at court. In most cases, they will only meet you and the children if they are asked to by the court.

If you do not hear from CAFCASS you should call them so that you can talk to them about your situation and the interests of the children.

Before you go to court, CAFCASS are required to carry out safeguarding checks. The checks should highlight any concerns for a child or any of the people involved. This includes drug and alcohol misuse, mental health concerns, concerns that a child could be abducted, child abuse, domestic abuse, sexual violence or abuse, and any other welfare concerns.

CAFCASS will check what information is held about you and your family. They can ask anyone involved with your family, including social care, the school and healthcare providers for information about you and the children. CAFCASS also have access to the Police database where records of criminal convictions are held. If their checks show that there might be concerns, they may ask the Police for more detailed information.

The court will receive a copy of this information in a safeguarding letter which can help the Judge to make decisions about how the case will be organised. The safeguarding letter is usually shared with you and the other person involved unless there is sensitive information that cannot be shared.

Sometimes, the information in the safeguarding letter may not include everything that you think is important, such as your experience of domestic abuse. If this is the case, you can let the court know using form C1A. If you are making allegations of domestic abuse, the court will require you to provide evidence of this.

If the case is complicated or there are concerns about the child’s welfare, CAFCASS may be asked to appoint a court guardian for the child. A court guardian is a solicitor who represents the child in court.

Step 5: The first hearing at court