Section 37 of the Children Act
‘Section 37’ refers to the relevant section in the Children Act 1989. If, in family proceedings, the court is concerned for the welfare of a child to such an extent that the court considers that it may be necessary for the local authority (children’s services) to consider whether they should commence care proceedings, the court can direct the local authority to undertake further investigation.
Ordinarily, a ‘section 37 direction’ is made in a private application made by one (or both) parent(s) in respect of their child/ren.
Where the court makes a section 37 direction the local authority are duty bound to consider whether:
- they should apply for a care order or supervision order (i.e. to commence care proceedings)
- they should provide services or assistance to the child or their family
- they should take any further action in respect of the child.
Once the local authority have completed their investigations, if they decide not to commence care proceedings, they are required to provide a report to the court to confirm (a) their reasons for their decision; (b) any service or assistance they have provided or intend to provide and (c) any other action they have taken or intend to undertake. For example, the local authority may decide to arrange an initial child protection conference, to consider whether the child should be made the subject of a child protection plan; they may put in to place a child in need plan, to provide further support; or they may invite the parents to attend a pre-proceedings meeting to set out the support being provided and the expectations of the local authority, to avoid care proceedings being issued.
The local authority should also decide whether to review the case again at a later date and if so, when it should be reviewed.
The local authority will usually have eight weeks from the date that the court sets the direction to complete their enquiries and report, unless the court decides to provide them with a different period of time.
During that eight week period, the court can make an interim care order, to ensure that the local authority share parental responsibility for the child in question, whilst investigations are ongoing.
Once the local authority have completed their investigations and reported back to the court, the court will consider the report and will decide what, if any, further action needs to be taken.
It is important if the local authority become involved with your family, that you access advice at the earliest opportunity, in particular if a section 37 direction has been made.
Section 7 of the Children Act
We often receive enquiries from concerned parents whereby children’s services have indicated that they intend to initiate an investigation or assessment of their family.
Below is a short summary of some of the terminology that you may hear professionals using. They all refer to enquiries/investigations and/or assessments that Children Services, or CAFCASS in the case of section 7, can undertake. Here, we take a further look at the term ‘section 7’ and what it could mean for you and your family.
A direction can be made by the court for a section 7 report to be prepared where an application has been made in private law proceedings, concerning children – for example, an application for a child arrangement order (to consider who the child lives with and spends time with), a prohibited steps order (to prevent a parent from taking a particular course of action) or a specific issue order (to direct a parent to take a particular course of action).
What is the purpose of a Section 7 report?
The purpose is to provide the court with information and to provide advice as to what (if any) orders are needed to promote the child’s welfare.
Where an application is made to the court concerning a child, the court are required to look at the welfare of the child/ren as the paramount consideration. The court must also consider whether making an order is better for that child, than making no order at all. The court should also have consideration of the welfare checklist.
What is the Welfare checklist?
The welfare checklist is a list of the seven criteria that the court must consider when making decisions concerning the arrangements and orders regarding children;
- The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child/ren concerned
- The child/ren’s physical, emotional and educational needs
- The likely effect on the child/ren if the circumstances changed as a result of the court’s decision.
- The child/ren’s age, sex, backgrounds and any other characteristics which will be relevant to the court’s decision.
- Any harm the child/ren has suffered or maybe at risk of suffering.
- Capability of the child/ren’s parents (or any other person the courts find relevant) at meeting the child/ren’s needs.
- The powers available to the court in the given proceedings.
Why is a Section 7 report necessary?
The court may decide this report is necessary when separated parents are unable to reach an agreement themselves as to the arrangements for their child/ren.
If the court decide that it is necessary to have some input from a professional, the court can direct either CAFCASS or the local authority to undertake a section 7 report.
As part of the preparation of the report, the CAFCASS officer or social worker should speak to both parents and the child (dependent on their age). The CAFCASS officer or social worker may also wish to speak to other professionals, such as the school.
Some of the factors that could be considered in the preparation of the report are;
- The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child/ren
- Any relevant concerns raised by either parent
- The parents’ home conditions and their suitability
- Whether or not the children’s physical/emotional/educational needs are being met by their parent(s)
- If/how the child/ren will be affected by any proposed change
- Whether or not it appears that the child/ren have suffered or at risk of suffering any harm
- The parenting capacity of either parent
- Whether the local authority should be requested to report under section 37 Children Act 1989.
It is important that the author of the Section 7, has the opportunity to speak to and befriend the child/ren, which they would do in an age appropriate manner, as they will need to ascertain their wishes and feelings should they be considered of an appropriate age to do so.
CAFCASS officers or social workers, may visit a child of any age, as wishes and feelings can be obtained in many different formats. However a ‘standalone’ wishes and feelings assessment usually takes place from the age of eight years old (but this can vary).
Does the court have to follow Section 7 recommendations?
We are often asked if the court are required to follow the recommendations made within a Section 7 report. The court are tasked with considering the evidence as a whole, both written and verbal, to decide what the best outcome should be for that child/ren. If the court choose to depart from the recommendations of a CAFCASS officer or social worker, then the court should provide their reasoning for doing so. There is no obligation for the court to follow the recommendations placed before them within the Section 7 report.