As of October 2014, there exists a statutory presumption that parental involvement in a child’s life, following family breakdown, is in the best interests of a child. In assessing contact and living arrangements for children, the court balances the need for children to have a relationship with the primary and secondary carer in an application for a Child Arrangements Orders (CAO). To aid and facilitate contact arrangements, Family Assistance Orders offer a route for CAFCASS to “…to advise, assist and (where appropriate) befriend…” the parties to a CAO to try and ensure that orders are complied with to improve and maintain any contact ordered.
Family Assistance Orders are voluntary, in that the court may not make the order without the consent of everyone named in the order. It requires both parents to seek the advantage that these orders might potentially offer their family unit following a relationship breakdown and this can frequently be a stumbling block to their initial implementation. Practice Direction 12M provides guidance to the court and CAFCASS on the suitability of these orders to a family unit.
Family Assistance Orders are generally only ordered where issues regarding a child’s welfare is too difficult for a family to undertake without specialist assistance from CAFCASS or the local authority, with such welfare issues extending beyond the usual level of involvement from these institutions. CAFCASS’ guidance on the factors and criteria to be considered when proposing a Family Assistance Order can be found here.
There is some wider criticism about the fact these types of orders are underused by the justice system, often cited as a reflection of budget cuts impacting on CAFCASS’ ability and enthusiasm for extended interaction and engagement with families beyond the end of general court proceedings.