Court orders - broken glass
Last week, CAFCASS told a family that the earliest it was able to produce a Section 7 Report was 32 weeks, sentencing a father to 8 months in a contact centre. The cracks in the system begin to show... 
But what is a Section 7 Report?  
This is a report produced by CAFCASS under Section 7 of the Children's Act 1989. This is ordered by the court to provide information on a child's welfare and to consider any risks raised about the child, a parent, or other relatives. A CAFCASS worker will decide what information is needed based on what the court has asked them to look into, however, they commonly will talk to the children about their wishes and feelings, and what they would like to happen. This may be at a neutral venue, such as at their school. They may also speak to other family members, teachers, and health workers. Having made these enquiries, the CAFCASS worker will write a report advising the court on what they think should happen. 
Back to the family in question, CAFCASS have said that due to lack of resources and a backlog, they will produce their report in, at the earliest, 32 weeks. The effect this will have on the family is huge. This means that the father will have to continue to see his children in a contact centre for the next 8 months, for only 1 hour every 2 weeks. This cannot be enough time to maintain a normal child-parent relationship. Over a year, this equates to 24 hours. The equivalent of 1 day a year spent with your children surely cannot be enough time to maintain a relationship, especially if they are young. 
We appreciate the lack of resources, and we do not take lightly the effect that COVID-19 has had on all of us, not just this industry, however, we are headed towards a new normal that will negatively affect children, and that is not right. The broken system puts huge pressure on these families as they try to separate and work towards an amicable divorce, often causing more animosity than there would be if the system had the resources it needs.  
Sentencing parents to time in these contact centres is not the answer. They put strain on the relationships between the parent using the centre and their children as these children often do not know why they are there, and do not want to be in the first place. Why can't Dad take us to the park? Why can't Mum take us out? Why do we have to come to this centre, with broken toys and dirty tables? This system is being pushed to breaking point, and the longer it takes for the support it needs to come, more families are punished. More children are caught up in it.  
The aim is to get these centres back to being safe and neutral venues in which families can spend time together. Perhaps this means more financial support from government, or perhaps a shift in the idea that a contact centre is the only option for these families, but how can you affect change in an institution that is hundreds of years old? Well, we have recently seen a change to divorce law, the only change to occur in the last 50 years, so maybe we are moving forwards, towards something more positive. You no longer need to appoint blame or fault, you can decide to divorce together, removing the need for divorce to be quite as combative as it has become in recent years. Hopefully, this positive change will eventually affect the whole system. For now, it is just one step at a time.  
Have you had any experience with these contact centres? How do you think they could be improved? Let us know below. 
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