In my August 2017 article I considered the Cafcass document ‘Guidance on the use of professional time to benefit children’ (‘the Guidance’) in the context of private law children proceedings.
While Cafcass believes it is crucial that the work it carries out before and at the First Hearing (FHDRA) should continue unchanged, it proposes to introduce major changes in the way it carries out work beyond the First Hearing.
The Guidance sets out new ways of working in private law in the form of two defined interventions (which are subject to trial and evaluation), namely:
This article updates the reader on these proposed interventions in the light of the 1st February 2018 blog by Anthony Douglas, Chief Executive of CAFCASS, and information currently available on the Cafcass website.
Child Impact Analysis Reports
It is intended that child impact analysis reports will replace traditional section 7 reports. The Cafcass Operating Framework (August 2017 update) states that this will occur ‘in cases where the key issue is safeguarding, enforcement, or high and intractable conflict’.
What is the focus of the new child impact intervention?
Although the Guidance includes a report template, it offers no explanation other than to state that ‘[e]ach child impact analysis will include a structured professional assessment and recommendation by Cafcass … and may include some brief casework’. Mr Douglas helpfully offers some insight into child impact work and the focus of the new reports:
“The key difference in the new approach is to focus on an individual child in much more depth than is possible in a more family-based report. The main issues in child impact work are emotions and mental health concerns faced by children, not the finer details of arrangements for spending time with a parent, which can often be a secondary issue for children compared to the powerful separation-related emotions they are experiencing. In a child impact analysis, we are looking for the start of any difficulty for the child, which may be long before an application to court. Many children are affected by relationship breakdown for months or years so that when a case finally comes to court, the child may have been carrying complex and often conflicted emotions for a long time. The outcomes the child will be seeking are often simple: feeling happier; not being so worried; and being able to concentrate in school. Many children cannot conceptualise these emotions, they just feel them and are in the grip of them. We hope that through our work on child impact, we can get closer to what is going on for these children and help them and their parents to recover as soon as they can.”
Mr Douglas reports that the pilots “appear to have gone well” and have “brought out some learning points”. These pilots have now concluded and are currently in the process of being evaluated. While the evaluation may lead to some fine tuning of the child impact analysis report template, it appears increasingly likely that these new reports will be with us in the not too distant future.
Casework Intervention (Positive Parenting Programme)
The Guidance does not expand on this proposed intervention other than to suggest it will be ‘a three or four session casework intervention in the most complex cases such as Rule 16.4 appointments’. The Cafcass Operating Framework (August 2017 update) expands further by explaining that a working group is looking to develop a structured intervention programme ‘for parents in high conflict … aimed at promoting change, improving communication, and reducing emotional harm’.
Mr Douglas refers to this new intervention as the Positive Parenting Programme (PPP) and helpfully outlines the intended aim of the intervention together with an explanation of the types of cases being trialled:
“Positive Parenting Programme [is] a new four-session intervention in complex cases that are stuck in conflict. Often cases included in the pilot will be where the court has identified that the child faces risks from protracted and unresolved conflict between parents or within the family. This can include between siblings and other relatives – separation is everyone in the family’s business, not just the parents. This programme is structured to work supportively with children and their parents to reduce the level of conflict and to assess whether a way forward can be found which limits further emotional damage to the child or children. We are aiming to prevent emotional damage becoming lifelong emotional wreckage. As in the TV drama Doctor Foster, this process is often happening for a child without either parent realising it.”
Some additional information regarding the PPP can be found in the Cafcass FAQs document, High Conflict Practice Pathway.
The document explains that the High Conflict Practice Pathway will help practitioners identify cases which might benefit from the PPP. These are likely to be those cases where there are medium levels of parental conflict and where the parents are open to working with professionals.
The document further explains that the PPP pilot aims to work to reduce parental conflict and emotional harm to children by encouraging parents to place themselves in their children’s shoes to understand the effect of their behaviour. A group of Cafcass practitioners have been trained to deliver the programme which will be piloted in 50 new (and suitable) Rule 16.4 cases. Trials of the PPP were due to start at the end of 2017 and evaluation will take place once the 50 cases have been identified and the programme completed.
I shall continue to monitor progress of the new interventions and will update readers with any further developments.