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1.4.4 Private Law Proceedings Section 7 and Section 37 Reports

Note: Contact Orders and Residence Orders made in such proceedings are now known as Child Arrangements Orders, following the introduction of the Children and Families Act 2014.

AMENDMENT

This chapter was updated in May 2014 to reflect the current structure of the Service and changes as a result of implementing ‘Working Together 2013’.


Contents

1. Introduction
2. Guiding Principle
3. Request for Section 7 Reports
  3.1 Integrated Front Door (IFD) and Legal Responsibility
  3.2 Social Work Team Responsibility
  3.3 Criteria for the Local Authority to Complete a Section 7 Report 
  3.4 How to Complete a Section 7 Report
  3.5 Consulting the Child
  3.6 Practice Guidance
4. Request for Section 37 Reports
  4.1 Integrated Front Door (IFD) and Legal Responsibilities
  4.2 Social Work Team Responsibilities
  4.3 During the Investigation
  4.4 How to Complete a Section 37 Report
  4.5 Practice Guidance
5. If the Child Moves
6. Timescales
7. Disagreement
  Appendix 1: Process for Completing A Section 7 Report For Court
  Appendix 2: Process for Completing A Section 37 Report For Court If a Case is Not Open
  Appendix 3: Process for Completing a Section 37 Report for Court if a Case is Open


1. Introduction

Private law proceedings can only be made by parents and / or those with Parental Responsibility for the child or children or if leave (permission) is granted by the Court under the Children Act 1989. Contact and residence cases, applications for specific issues orders, prohibited steps orders, Parental Responsibility, and step parent Adoption Orders are examples of private law cases. Private law proceedings differ from public law cases which concern situations where the state, acting through Local Authority Children's Specialist Services, is taking steps to intervene in family life. These include applications for care orders, Supervision Orders, Adoption Orders and Emergency Protection Orders.


2. Guiding Principle

When reports are requested by the Court in private law proceedings, the core processes of Single Assessment and the principles of working together must be applied. This is the framework within which Children’s Specialist Services assess vulnerable children’s needs. Children being considered by the Court in private law proceedings will all have some degree of vulnerability. The fact that the Court is instigating the assessment activity should be regarded as another referral route and a request to format the findings of the assessment in a particular way for reporting to the Court. Each request must be regarded as a request for an assessment of children’s needs. An approach of open minded, respectful uncertainty must be applied, and cases should not be categorised i.e. “this is a difficult divorce, where parents cannot agree” - this can lead to a mind set, and lost opportunity to really hear what the child is saying about their circumstances, which is the primary driver of the assessment.

The Court, CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) and Local Authority Children’s Specialist Services staff in Merseyside share a commitment to providing safe and positive outcomes for children subject to family Court proceedings. This procedure follows the Cheshire and Merseyside Family Court, Cafcass & Local Authority Protocol which sets out a framework for professionals to work together effectively to:

  • Ensure delays are minimised in reporting to the Court and enabling the Court to make timely decisions for children thereby promoting positive outcomes;
  • Ensure that full information and assessment on the children and families involved is shared appropriately between agencies and as appropriate with the Court to enable it to carry out its duties;
  • Ensure there is agreement on the criteria and process for establishing each Agency’s responsibility in relation to reporting or contributing under Section 7 or Section 37 of the Children Act 1989;
  • Ensure that there is clarity over how and when agencies are notified of requests to report or contribute by the relevant Court;
  • Clarify timescales for reporting or contributing under Section 7 or Section 37 of the Children Act 1989;
  • Ensure that work is commenced by the relevant agency on receipt of an order from the Court;
  • Reduce the need for reassessing children and families unnecessarily;
  • Support the appropriate use of the Court.

This procedure details how the Local Authority will respond to requests for Section 7 and Section 37 reports.


3. Request for Section 7 Reports

The purpose of a request to report under Section 7 is to provide the Court with information; assessment and advice as to what (if any) orders should be made to promote the child’s welfare. The report will make reference to the Children Act 1989 “Welfare Checklist” including the wishes and feelings of the child and any other issues for assessment that are specified by the Courts.

It is usually the responsibility of CAFCASS to respond to a request from Court to complete a Section 7 report. However, the Court may ask Children’s Specialist Services to contribute to the report.  Where information is required by CAFCASS, including a request to see a child’s file, they will put the request in writing to provide four weeks notice to the Children's Specialist Services.

The Court will identify the issues that an assessment is required to address and specify this in the relevant order. The Court will arrange for the order to be sent with any supporting documentation to the Local Authority’s Legal Department within 5 working days.

At all times during the preparation of the Section 7 report, where the assessment identifies any safeguarding issues Working Together procedures must be followed.

Note: The Local Authority will not prepare any report based on oral instructions only; a Court Order is required. If any social work team receives a request directly from Court they should initially contact Legal in order that records are maintained in respect of all requests received from Court. Any requests from solicitors representing adults must be redirected to Legal.

3.1 Integrated Front Door (IFD) and Legal Responsibility

Upon receipt of the order Legal will forward the request to the Integrated Front Door (IFD) who will carry out a check on ICS to see if the child is known and consult the procedure on whether circumstances indicate that the Local Authority should complete a Section 7 report (see Section 3.3, Criteria for the Local Authority to Complete a Section 7 Report). The Integrated Front Door (IFD) will then accordingly inform Legal who will then take the necessary actions as follows:

  • If the child is not known inform the Court and CAFCASS that it will not be the Local Authority’s responsibility;
  • If the child is known provide the Social Worker or relevant Practice Manager (if the case is not allocated), with the relevant Court paperwork.

Where the request is accepted, Integrated Front Door (IFD) will launch a contact to the appropriate team.

3.2 Social Work Team Responsibility

The Practice Manager and/ or Social Worker must ensure that they have the relevant paperwork to proceed.

If the child is known then the Criteria for the Local Authority to complete a section 7 report (see Section 3.3, Criteria for the Local Authority to Complete a Section 7 Report) listed below will determine if it is a report that the Local Authority should complete.

The initial request for information will be contained within the Court Order and documentation (the Court bundle) which must be supplied by Legal.

In general Legal do not attend the Court unless there are exceptional circumstances, such as to explain the reason for delay in the Local Authority’s response.

3.3 Criteria for the Local Authority to Complete a Section 7 Report 

It may be appropriate for the Court to ask the Local Authority’s Children’s Specialist Services to report to the Court because of current or long term involvement with a particular child.

The Association of the Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) and CAFCASS have agreed a Protocol for Allocating Responsibilities for Court Reporting in Private Law

It details the circumstances where Children’s Specialist Services would be the appropriate agency to prepare the report as follows:

  1. The child is subject of a currently open case and when:
    • The child is the subject of a Child Protection Plan or the subject of a planned Child Protection Conference;
    • The child is currently the subject of a Supervision Order; or Accommodated under Section 20 Children Act 1989;
    • A Single Assessment is being undertaken by Children’s Specialist Services or has been completed within the past month;
    • Children’s Specialist Services are carrying out enquiries pursuant to Section 47 Children Act 1989;
    • An Assessment has commenced by Children’s Specialist Services and it has already become apparent that further Children’s Specialist Services involvement is likely;
    • The child is currently in receipt of services as a “Child in Need” as defined in section 17 Children Act 1989;
    • The child is subject to a family assistance order which directs the Local Authority to make an officer available

      or
  2. The case has been in one of the categories set out in (a) above but within the past month has been closed by Children’s Specialist Services, save in circumstances in which a Single Assessment or S47 enquiries had concluded that there was no further action by Children’s Specialist Services;

    or
  3. The Court application was made as a result of a recommendation by Children’s Specialist Services or with its support.

    Where a child’s case was closed by Children’s Specialist Services more than a month before the date of issue of the Court application, CAFCASS may propose that Children’s Specialist Services should undertake the task of preparing a S7 report but it should only do so with the agreement of Children’s Specialist Services.

    There may be some circumstances in which the Local Authority has current or previous involvement with the family but may not be best placed to complete a Section 7 report in full, for example, where they have previous knowledge of only one of the parents. In such circumstances the Practice Manager should liaise with CAFCASS and Legal to agree how the full report will be completed.

3.4 How to Complete a Section 7 Report

When compiling a Section 7 report the Social Worker should use the following heading as a framework:

  • Background;
  • History of children’s services and other agency interventions;
  • Profile of each child;
  • Profile of each adult who is party to the proceedings;
  • The response of the family members to the current circumstances;
  • A summary of the Social Workers assessment which must address the reasons the Court gave for requesting the report;
  • The Social Workers comments regarding the welfare checklist;
  • The Social Workers comments regarding the ‘no order’ principle and its relevance to this case;
  • The Social Workers conclusions and recommendations with reasons.

The Social Worker should discuss the contents of their report with the Practice Manager. The recommendations should take account of the orders available to the Court under the Children Act 1989. If there are any doubts about the recommendations that may be made to the Court, the Social Worker should seek advice from Legal.

As the Local Authority is not a party to the proceedings, the Social Worker would not routinely be entitled to legal representation at the Court hearing. However, if the Social Worker and / or Team Manager felt legal representation was required; then legal representation at the hearing may be sought and will be considered on a case by case basis. Whilst not considered as the norm, it would certainly be considered suitable if the circumstances were becoming complex and for example, if it appeared that the Court may be contemplating making an Interim Care Order to the Local Authority. In any event, advice may be sought from Legal prior to presenting the report and appearing in Court.

The Social Worker responsible for preparing the report will generally need to be present at Court when the application is heard and should be prepared to give evidence in support of the information contained in the report.

3.5 Consulting the Child

Taking into account the child’s maturity and understanding, the Social Worker responsible for the Section 7 report has a duty to:

  • Inform the child concerned about the Court proceedings and the decision the Court has been asked to make;
  • Consult the child and report their views to the Court;
  • Ensure the child knows what will be reported and what will be recommended.

3.6 Practice Guidance

It is important that the Social Worker completes a holistic assessment, which starts from the first principle of the child’s welfare. In an active, open case this report must be integral to the overall plan for the child or children and not viewed as a separate and / or parallel process. Completing a Section 7 report, must represent an opportunity to re-evaluate a child or children’s circumstances, where the child’s views and wishes are paramount. The Practice Manager has an important role to play in reviewing the report produced by the Social Worker; challenging any preconceptions, bias or emerging mind set about the case and in particular the strengths of the parents / relatives.


4. Request for Section 37 Reports

When during any private law proceedings under the Children Act 1989, a question arises about the welfare of the child and it seems to the Court that it might be appropriate for a Care Order or Supervision Order to be made, then it will direct a Local Authority to undertake an investigation of the child’s circumstances and report to the Court its findings. The timescale for completing this report is 8 weeks.

When a request for a Section 37 report is received there needs to be an analysis of the reasons why it has been requested and a decision made as to whether it meets the criteria for a Section 47 investigation and Single Assessment or just a Single Assessment. In all cases a request for a Section 37 report requires, as a minimum, that a Single Assessment is completed.

4.1 Integrated Front Door (IFD) and Legal Responsibilities

If the Court contact Integrated Front Door (IFD) in the first instance for a request for a Section 37 report and the child is not an open case then the matter will be recorded as a contact and Integrated Front Door (IFD) will notify Legal. Legal will then ensure that the Social Worker receives all the relevant paperwork at the same time as having a copy on file in order to provide legal advice if sought.

If Legal is contacted by Court in the first instance for a request for a Section 37 report, Legal will need to confirm with Integrated Front Door (IFD) whether the case is open. If the case is not open then the matter will be recorded as a contact and Integrated Front Door (IFD) will notify Legal. The Integrated Front Door (IFD) will then launch the request to the relevant Team where the child lives. Legal will then ensure that the Social Worker receives all the relevant paperwork at the same time as having a copy on file in order to provide legal advice if sought.

4.2 Social Work Team Responsibilities

When Legal has provided the relevant paperwork to the Practice Manager they will convert the contact into a referral.

When the referral has been allocated to a Social Worker a Single Assessment will be completed with consideration of whether a Section 47 Enquiry is required.

Where a Section 47 Enquiry is required the Working Together to Safeguard Children procedures will be followed.

In order to inform a Section 37 report, a Single Assessment must be completed. A Single Assessment must be a multi-agency assessment of the child’s needs and situations across dimensions. The Single Assessment provides the evidence base for recommendations. On completion, the Single Assessment and the Section 37 report must be presented to a Legal Gate Keeping Meeting, prior to submission to the Court. This ensures that there is an appropriate level of scrutiny as to whether or not an application for particular orders should be made. The Legal Adviser at the Legal Gate Keeping Meeting should provide legal advice about whether the Court should be asked to take a view as to whether a finding a fact would assist decision making and the safety of the child.

4.3 During the Investigation

The Social Worker should consider:

  • If the Local Authority should consider applying for a Care Order;
  • If the Local Authority should provide services or assistance for the child and his/her family;
  • If the Local Authority should take any other action in relation to the child.

4.4 How to Complete a Section 37 Report

When compiling a Section 37 report the Social Worker should use the following heading as a framework:

  • Background;
  • History of Children's Specialist Services and other agency interventions;
  • Profile of each child;
  • Profile of each adult who is party to the proceedings;
  • The response of the family members to the current circumstances;
  • A summary of the Social Workers assessment;
  • The Social Workers comments regarding the welfare checklist;
  • The Social Workers comments regarding the no order principle and its relevance to this case;
  • The Social Workers conclusions and recommendations, with reasons.

The Social Worker should discuss the contents of the report with their Practice Manager. The recommendations should take account of the orders available to the Court under the Children Act 1989. As previously stated a report and Single Assessment should be presented to the Legal Gate Keeping Meeting. In exceptional circumstances where this is not possible the report should be shared with Legal and the relevant District Manager.

If the conclusion of the Single Assessment is that the provision of services to the family is required; then a detailed description of those services, provided through the Child in Need process, will need to be added to the report; the child’s plan will need to be appended to the report, including an indication of the timescales for the provision of services. It may be determined that a child requires protection through a Child Protection Plan; if this is the case a full account of the plan developed through the Core Group, must be appended.

If the conclusion is to take no further action, but review the family circumstances, then the report will need to inform the Court when this review will take place.

The Social Worker responsible for preparing the report will need to be present at Court when the application is heard and should be prepared to give evidence in support of the information contained in the report.

In general Legal do not attend the Court unless there is indication from the Court that an Interim Care Order will be required and Social Worker’s recommendation does not support this.

4.5 Practice Guidance

It is important that the Social Worker completes a holistic Single Assessment, which starts from the first principle of the child’s welfare. In an active, open case this report must be integral to the overall plan for the child or children and not viewed as a separate and/ or parallel process. Completing a Section 37 report, must represent an opportunity to re-evaluate a child or children’s circumstances, where the child’s views and wishes are paramount. In a new case, not previously known to the Department, the process must commence with the completion of a Single Assessment, the Court will express a particular view about what factors must be considered, this must be responded to within the assessment, which will inform the report to the Court. The report presented to Court must be a professional, objective social work assessment and plan. The Practice Manager has an important role to play in reviewing the report produced by the Social Worker; challenging any preconceptions, bias or emerging mind set about the case and in particular the strengths of the parents / relatives.


5. If the Child Moves

Where Children’s Specialist Services are undertaking the report, it will be undertaken by the relevant Social Care Team where the child/ children and their primary carer live(s).

Should they move within the Local Authority’s boundary during the course of the proceedings, the responsibility for producing the report will remain with the original Specialist Services team.

If the child moves to another Local Authority this will be communicated to the Court and a direction appointment requested if agreement cannot be reached, in order to consider which Local Authority should complete the assessment.


6. Timescales

Where the Court is ordering Children’s Specialist Services to report under Section 7 they will allow a minimum of 12 weeks and a maximum of 16 weeks from receipt of the relevant papers for the report to be filed.

Under Section 37, the Court will normally allow 8 weeks from receipt of order and papers for the report to be filed.

The Court will specify issues for assessment when ordering either a Section 7 or Section 37 report.

A request for a report under Section 37 is one of the triggers identified which requires the Social Worker to undertake a Single Assessment.

Social Workers undertaking the report or contributing to it will endeavour to do so promptly, in recognition of the impact on children and families of delays within Court procedures. However, if the author of the report has any unresolved concerns, they may approach the Court for guidance.


7. Disagreement

CAFCASS and the Local Authority have a responsibility to consult at all stages where this will avoid doubt and delay as to who should prepare the report. If irresolvable, they may return to the Court for direction.


Appendix 1: Process for Completing A Section 7 Report For Court

Click here to view Appendix 1: Process for Completing A Section 7 Report For Court.


Appendix 2: Process for Completing A Section 37 Report For Court If a Case is Not Open

Click here to view Appendix 2: Process for Completing A Section 37 Report For Court If a Case is Not Open.


Appendix 3: Process for Completing a Section 37 Report for Court if a Case is Open

Click here to view Appendix 3: Process for Completing a Section 37 Report for Court if a Case is Open.

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