About the Family Law Week blog

The Family Law Week Blog is a companion site to Family Law Week. It complements the news, cases and articles published on Family Law Week with additional comment and coverage of the wider aspects of family law.

The Blog is edited by Jacqui Gilliatt, of 4 Brick Court and Lucy Reed, of St Johns Chambers.

Monday, 9 November 2009

5 Outcomes : 1 Checklist

Increasingly frequently court reports from Local Authority social workers (and less often CAFCASS) are placing significant weight on the '5 outcomes' set out in Every Child Matters. They are:
  • be healthy
  • stay safe
  • enjoy and achieve
  • make a positive contribution
  • achieve economic well-being
Whilst these are noble aims and ones which one would hope arrangements sanctioned by the courts would meet, I have seen one too many reports where these five outcomes have distracted reporters from the task at hand when preparing a s7 or other report: to make recommendations to the court on the basis of the law, rather than government policy.

In fact the welfare checklist is a rather more sophisticated and subtle tool than the 5 outcomes, and is designed to be an adaptive tool to assist in the assessment of this child in this case. One factor which is often inadequately addressed by social workers reporting from a '5 outcomes' mindset is the impact of change. So, for example one may say that residence with Dad would satisfy the 5 outcomes better than residence with Mum, but the welfare checklist specifically reminds us to factor in the impact of a change from Mum to Dad. It's all about the questions one asks: whilst the law tells us that the impact of change is a factor to be considered, and authority tells us that the disruption of change must be offset by some particular benefit, a 5 outcomes approach can lead a social worker to simply compare the two proposed future care arrangements without reference to the status quo or the impact of disrupting that, and to underestimate the significance of change for the child or at least to fail to properly analyse that factor.

It won't be in every case that the two checklists produce different answers. But it is concerning that in the production of a statutory report the officers tasked with that piece of work are prepared so easily to treat policy documents as equivalent to or more important than statute. This can undermine a parent's confidence in the rigour of the report, and can provide a fruitful opportunity for cross examination.

None of this is to suggest that social workers don't know what the welfare checklist is, or indeed that the 5 outcomes should be ignored. But it is important for social workers to appreciate the statutory duty that they are fulfilling when they write a report, and I sense that - for some at least - somehow that understanding of the task has become hazier than it should be.

The welfare checklist is meant to help courts to promote the aims of the Children Act 1989: to ensure the best interests of the child. This all encompassing notion of welfare is something qualitatively different to the 5 outcomes and we should keep going back to it.

1 comment:

Shaun O'Connell said...

I have raised this in various hearings as it is not enshrined in law.Problem is CAFCASS have added it in. In one case no reference at all was made to welfare checklist and only everyday matters. Unless the law is changed CAFCASS and social workers should not be using but some believe that it is now law and when challenged don't have a clue.