Published on February 27, 2024

If you are involved in Court Proceedings which are deciding arrangements for your child the Court will sometimes order a ‘Section 7 Report’. Section 7 Reports, also known as Welfare Reports, are reports which are written by a CAFCASS officer or a Social Worker to assist the Court in working out the arrangements for the Child. It is helpful to know at this point that the Section 7 Report does not decide what the best option is, but recommends arrangements to the Court.

The Court is always left to decide the best way forward.

Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash

What is included in the Section 7 Report?

They are widely used, and can feature many different types of application, including but not limited to issues of;

  1. Who the child should spend time with and how often
  2. Whether that should be supervised or not
  3. Where the child should live
  4. Whether the child should be allowed to go on holiday
  5. Whether the child should be allowed to go and live in another Country permanently
  6. What the child says that they would like to happen (commonly known as a ‘wishes and feelings report’)
  7. The risk any party poses to the child, including domestic abuse
  8. Any concerns either parent has about the other
  9. Whether the child is being influenced by either parent

Who writes the Section 7 Report?

If the Local Authority are involved with the case, they will write the report. If not, CAFCASS as the Court Advisors will do so. When deciding whether there will be a report, the Court will look at what is recommended in the initial safeguarding letter. This is usually titled the ‘CAFCASS letter to the Court’. This will be written after CAFCASS has spoken to each party and have formed a basic view of what the likely issues are.

How does a Section 7 Report get ordered?

The recommendations in the CAFCASS letter are likely to given quite a lot of weight by the Court, for instance if the letter recommends a section 7 report then the Court will look upon that favourably. If the letter recommends no report or ‘no further role for CAFCASS’ then the Court is equally likely to consider that option. It is important to remember however that these are recommendations not decisions and ultimately if you do not agree with them be sure to tell the Court, and tell the Court why.

What about Domestic Abuse?

Sometimes professionals will talk about Practice Direction 12 J. This Practice direction helps people who have suffered, or are at risk of suffering domestic abuse or violence. If the CAFCASS officer, or Social Worker, feels that they would not be able to write the Section 7 Report without the Court deciding whether there has been Domestic Abuse, they may order a finding of fact hearing. This does not mean there will not be a Section 7 Report, it just means that it is likely to be prepared after the Court has decided the facts of what has happened.

What if I think the child is being influenced?

CAFCASS and Social Workers have tools at their disposal to assess whether there are alienating behaviours being used by either parent. It is a good idea to raise any concerns you may have with the person writing the initial safeguarding letter, and then the Court in due course. This is to ensure that the Section 7 Report  addresses the key issues in the case. 

What is in the Section 7 Report?

The report can contain any number of things, depending on why it was ordered. The Report itself will usually set out discussions that the writer has had with each party, any relevant previous convictions or Local Authority involvement, any discussions and work done with the children, an analysis of the case, any risk factors or other relevant findings (if following a finding of fact) and then the recommendations to the Court.

Do they talk to Children?

The short answer is – sometimes! The long answer is that it is dependent upon the issues that are raised in the case, the age and understanding of the child and whether the writer of the report, and the Court, believe it is appropriate. If they do speak with the child, this is sometimes referred to as a ‘wishes and feelings report’.

What next?

You can either agree with the recommendations or challenge them. There might also be some that you agree with, and some that you don’t. If you don’t agree with them, you will need to set out why. Depending on what the other party says, there might be a need for a Final Hearing where the Court will hear evidence from the person who wrote the report, the other party and yourself. In that hearing, any questions or challenges to the Report can be put to the writer and the Court can then make a decision as to what the appropriate arrangements would be.

Conclusion

Section 7 Reports are a vital tool of the Family Court, which allow an independent person to form an objective view on the competing arguments and applications. It is important to engage with the person writing the report to make sure that yours are heard and considered. If you agree with the recommendations then make sure to say so, if you do not then set out why. Remember always that it is the Court that will ultimately decide the best way forward.

You can find more about CAFCASS HERE.

Patrick is a member of the Family Separation Support Hub. You can find his contact details HERE.

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Going Through Family Court

What happens when we go through the family court? At every family court hearing, all parties should be given a chance to have their say before any decisions are made, but the judge will need to focus everyone on the things s/he needs to hear about in order to make a decision. Before the majority of cases come before a family court, forms will have been filled in which gives the judge the basics of each case. Questions will be asked during the hearing and you or your legal representation will be expected to answer all questions calmly and as accurately as possible.

Decision Making When Going Through Family Courts

Family courts reach final decisions over a period of time. Sometimes a judge will need to postpone dealing with some issues and just deal with part of the dispute at one hearing, perhaps because some information is missing or there isn’t time. Court hearings should proceed on the basis that everyone, including the judge, has seen in advance all the paperwork relied upon by any party. There are various types of hearing and if you are going through the family courts it would be sensible to familiarise yourself with the type of hearing you will be attending. Directions hearings, for example, are shorter hearings and are really there to get the case ready for a hearing where a full decision will be made. Another hearing you may want to read more about is a First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA). This refers to the first hearing in connection with an application about children (for example a dispute about where children should live), at which the court will consider safeguarding checks on the family and will attempt to resolve the matter or identify the range of dispute if this is not possible. This hub has a lot of material on family courts and what you can expect there. There are informative articles on CAFCASS and how they are appointed and advise a court in your case. We recommend careful reading of all this material as family courts are different and work in ways that you may not be used to.

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