The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service has been rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted. The Service is more commonly known as Cafcass.

In a recently published report, the government agency praised Cafcass for the quality and effectiveness of its private and public work, as well as the organisation’s leadership.

Ofsted – the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills – is a government body tasked with monitoring schools and other organisations involved in education and childcare.

The Ofsted report declares:

“Children and families who experience family court proceedings receive an outstanding service from Cafcass. This is an improvement since the previous inspection, in 2018, when the quality and effectiveness of public and private law practice with children and families was judged as good, and leadership was judged as outstanding.”


Meanwhile, the report continues:

“Senior leaders have provided the scaffolding for outstanding practice to flourish. A new model of practice introduced since the previous inspection, alongside new practice and management quality standards, are understood and valued by a highly skilled workforce.”

Material examined by Ofsted officials during an inspection earlier this year included over 600 case records. Officers also attended court hearings and meetings, and interviewed over 300 lawyers, as well as children and their relatives. The inspectors also spoke to family court judges and to representatives of organisations that work with Cafcass, such as the Department for Education and local authorities.

The Ofsted report is available here.

The role of Cafcass

Cafcass is a non-ministerial government organisation. It was established in 2001 under the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act. Its primary role is protecting the best interests of children involved in family proceedings. Cafcass officers intervene in cases at an early stage, interviewing family members and establishing their circumstances, including the extent to which children may be at risk in more troubled families. Welfare issues, known as ‘safeguarding concerns’, will be discussed with social workers from the local authority, and in some instances, with the police. Parents are usually also offered the opportunity to to give their side of the story.

The results of these enquiries will be compiled into a concise report known as a safeguarding letter, for inspection by the designated judge prior to the first hearing in the case.

Section 7 reports

At that first hearing, the judge will consider the need for any further involvement by Cafcass in the case. If circumstances call for this, Cafcass then may be asked to compile a more detailed investigation into the family’s circumstances and the welfare of the children. This is known as a section 7 report, in reference to section 7 of the Children Act 1989.

When compiling a section 7 report, Cafcass officers structure their findings according to the so-called ‘welfare checklist’. This is a list of considerations to be assessed, intended as general guidance. It includes such issues as:

  • The child’s own views and wishes – if they are mature enough to express these.
  • The child’s background and personality.
  • The child’s specific emotional and physical needs.
  • Whether the child has suffered physical or emotional harm in the past or is likely to do so in the future.
  • The caregiving capabilities of the child’s parents and other family members.

It is mandated in English family law that a child’s welfare must always be the paramount consideration in any court decisions made. Their best interests will always take priority over those of their parents or other adults involved in the case.

Family court judges consider Cafcass reports carefully when reaching their decisions and issuing child arrangements orders for parents struggling to reach an agreement between themselves. As the name suggests, these commonly issued court orders set out which parent the child will live with on a day-to-day basis and when and how often they will see their other caregiver.

Of course, the competing parties in each dispute are free to argue against the findings of a section 7 report, if they can demonstrate errors or feel its conclusions lack fairness. When this occurs, the Cafcass officer who drafted the report may be asked to attend court during the hearing for cross examination.

The Cafcass remit includes court hearings held when parents argue with each other over living arrangements for their children following divorce or separation, but also care and adoption proceedings. Care proceedings, in which a judge decides whether a child should be taken away from their parents, are referred to as ‘public law’, in contrast to ‘private’ disputes amongst families.