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Cafcass model of ‘Evidence Informed Practice’

Date:4 JUL 2014
Third slide
Family Law
SARAH PARSONS, Assistant Director at  Cafcass

A bespoke matrix of standardised assessment tools is being used by Cafcass to produce reports which aim to facilitate early and conclusive decision making in private law family court proceedings.

There is no doubt that producing high quality analytical assessments and transparent, evidence based recommendations in situations which are constantly changing and are highly contested, is a challenging area of practice. The failure of some reports to rise to this challenge can be linked to delay, over reliance on experts and on fact finding hearings and a higher likelihood of contested final hearings.

The assessment task is to gather information from a range of sources and to develop a succinct narrative or ‘story’ which brings to life the child’s experience. It involves thinking about how the different pieces of information relate to each other, to the present circumstances and to the future needs of the child. Reflecting on what the information means for each individual child is vital in understanding the potentially differential impact of similar circumstances on different children, even those in the same family. The report needs to contain recommendations, which are well founded and clearly rooted in the ‘evidence’ gathered, research, knowledge of child development and the impact on children of domestic violence, exposure to parental substance misuse and mental health issues and to high levels of parental conflict.

The use of standardised assessment tools to elicit detailed relevant information and to analyse this within a contextualised framework allows the investigation to be specific and precisely targeted, to be transparent for the court and for the subjects of it and to avoid addendums and protracted proceedings. It also lends confidence to the practitioner and can save time by avoiding lengthy and meandering interviews and reports, both of these becoming more structured and succinct.

This approach to Evidence Informed practice is firmly in line with the objectives and principles of the Child Arrangements Programme and the transparency of the process will help to de-mystify one aspect of the system for self-representing parties.

The Cafcass assessment tools have been selected following a review of tools used by local authorities, the voluntary sector, CAFCASS Cymru and internationally. They have been selected on the basis of their usefulness in the Cafcass context. Some of the tools, for example the Safe Contact Indicator [1] and the Impact of Parental Conflict Indicator, have been created within Cafcass and as such are not formally validated. Others, such as the tool for assessing drug abuse [2] are validated social work assessment tools.

There are five sections to the matrix covering basic information gathering, parenting capacity, child development needs, wishes and feelings and resilience and vulnerability . The matrix provides a guide to which tool should be selected in which circumstance and for what purpose.

It relates to the welfare checklist (Children Act 1989, s (3)). The wishes and feelings of the child concerned can be ascertained using tools in section C of the menu; the age, sex, background and any characteristics can be ascertained using tools in section D; any harm which he has suffered or is at risk of suffering and capability of parents can be ascertained using tools from section B.

A training programme has been designed and delivered and is supplemented by an e-learning programme to reinforce and refresh this.

[1] C Sturge and D Glaser, 'Contact and Domestic Violence – The Experts’ Court Report' [2000] Family Law 615

[2] Adapted from J Fowler (2003) A Practitioner’s Tool for Child Protection and the Assessment of Parents (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2003)  

The full version of this article will appear in the September 2014 issue of Family Law.