Protocol for the preparation of Section 7 and Section 37 Reports
Operational from: 4th January 2010
Agreed by: Vulnerable Children
Operational Management Group
Version Number: 1
The protocol is between Suffolk Family Courts, Cafcass and Suffolk County Council, and concerns reports to the
Court under s.7 and s.37 of the Children Act 1989. It sets out the underlying principles within which issues are
negotiated, clarifies roles and responsibilities, and sets out a framework for professionals to work effectively together
Index number: 3.2.214
SUFFOLK FAMILY COURTS, CAFCASS AND SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL PRIVATE LAW FAMILY PROCEEDINGS
PROTOCOL FOR THE PREPARATION OF SECTION 7 AND SECTION 37 REPORTS
1 Policy Statement 3
2 Purpose 3
3 Principles 4
4 Scope 4
5 Definitions 4
6 Legal Context 5
7 Purpose of a Children Act Section 7 Report 5
8 Purpose of a Children Act Section 37 Report 5
9 Agreed Responsibilities 5
10 Information Sharing and Safeguarding 7
11 Consulting the child 7
12 Timescales 7
13 Disagreement 8
14 Implementation 8
15 Monitoring and Review 8
1. Policy Statement
The family courts, Cafcass (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) and
Suffolk County Council’s Children’s Social Care staff in Suffolk share a commitment to
safe and positive outcomes for children subject to family court proceedings. This protocol is
underpinned by a commitment to minimising delay, promoting effective communication,
and appropriate sharing of information.
The purposes of this protocol are to
• set out the underlying principles within which issues are negotiated
• clarify roles and responsibilities
• set out a framework for professionals to work together effectively
Once printed, this is an uncontrolled document
• to ensure delays are minimised in reporting to the court and enabling the court to
make timely decisions for children thereby promoting positive outcomes
• to 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
• to 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 Act
• to ensure that there is clarity over how and when agencies are notified of requests to
report or contribute by the relevant court
• to clarify timescales for reporting or contributing under s.7 or s.37 Children Act
• to ensure that work is commenced by the relevant agency on receipt of an order from
• to reduce the need for reassessing children and families unnecessarily
• support the appropriate use of the court
4.1 The protocol specifies agreed responsibilities of the courts, Cafcass and Children’s Social
4.2 This protocol applies to children who are subject to private law proceedings under the
Children Act 1989.
Cafcass – Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service.
FCA – Family Court Advisor, the generic term for a practitioner working within Cafcass.
Within private law proceedings their title is “Children and Family Reporter”, unless the
child has been made a party to the proceedings under Rule 9.5 of Family Proceeding Rules
1991, in which case their title is “Guardian ad Litem”.
Agency – refers to either Cafcass or the Council.
The Council – Suffolk County Council.
Children’s Social Care/Team – is used where it is specifically social work teams that are
6. Legal Context
• The Children Act 1989
• Human Rights Act 1998
• Family Law Act 1996
• Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000
• Adoption and Children Act 2002
• Children and Adoption Act 2006
7. Purpose of reporting under Section 7 of the Children Act 1989
7.1 The purpose of a request to report under section 7 is to provide the courts with information,
assessment and advice as to what (if any) orders should be made to promote the child’s
7.2 The person completing the report will make reference to the ‘welfare checklist’ in section 1
of the Children Act 1989 including the views and feelings of the child(ren) and any other
issues for assessment that are specified by the courts.
8. Purpose of reporting under Section 37 of the Children Act 1989
A court can under section 37 order an investigation of the child’s circumstances if it
considers that there may be grounds for a care or supervision order to be made. The court
can direct that the child’s circumstances are investigated and the local authority is required
to consider whether there is a need for an application for a public law order.
9. Agreed Responsibilities
9.1 Reporting to the Court under Section 7 of the Act
In private law proceedings, it is ordinarily the responsibility of Cafcass to respond to a
9.2 When the Local Authority contributes
As part of the initial Cafcass safeguarding checks, the relevant Social Care Manager will
respond to Cafcass within 5 working days to confirm the nature (if any) of the Council’s
involvement with the child, including whether the child meets the criteria set out on
When Cafcass is preparing the Section 7 report and the relevant Children’s Social Care
Team has information relevant to the report, the latter may either agree to the Cafcass
Officer reading the file or provide written information to Cafcass to include in the report.
Children’s Social Care will in general be responsible for contributing in this way when there
has been recent intervention relevant to the issues before the court. Typically, “recent”
would mean within the previous year: however, this will need to be a matter of agreement
between the agencies in individual cases.
Children’s Social Care will act promptly to identify which team will take responsibility for
If Cafcass is asking a Children’s Social Care Team for written information, they will put the
request in writing and will endeavour to provide four weeks notice. Children’s Social Care
staff will also endeavour to provide timely information wherever possible to avoid delay.
9.3 When the Local Authority Reports
It may be appropriate for the court to ask the Council’s Children’s Social Care Team to
report to the court because of current or long term involvement with a particular child.
These would include the following circumstances:
a) If the child has a Child in Need Plan allocated to a social worker or is receiving
services from the Council’s Children’s Social Care service (but not where the case is
allocated to a Disability Team) or has done so in the previous month.
b) If the child has a Child Protection Plan.
c) If a child is looked after by the Local Authority.
d) When a relative has made an application for a private law order with the support of
the Local Authority as an alternative to care proceedings.
It is acknowledged that there may be some circumstances in which the Council 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.
9.4 Section 37 reports: The role of the Social Worker
If the court considers there may be grounds for a care or supervision order to be made, they
may direct the Council to undertake enquiries into the circumstances of the child. The
Council will consider, if they are not applying for an order, whether support and assistance
will be provided to the child/children concerned. Where Cafcass are considering making a
recommendation to the court about requesting a report under s.37 Children Act 1989, it will
endeavour to consult first with the relevant Children’s Social Care Team.
9.5 If the Child Moves
Where Children’s Social Care are undertaking the report, it will normally be undertaken by
the relevant social care team where the children and their primary carer live(s).
Should they move within the Council’s boundary during the course of the proceedings, the
report will stay with the original social care team unless there are exceptional reasons. In
the interests of avoiding delay, decisions for the report writing to be transferred to another
team within the same Local Authority will only be taken by the relevant Locality Managers
for Social Care and in exceptional circumstances.
If the child moves to another local authority this will be communicated to the court and a
directions appointment requested if agreement cannot be reached on which local authority should
complete the assessment.
9.6 Ordering a report
The court will identify the issues on which an assessment is required and specify this in the
relevant order. In relation to Section 37 reports, the order should make it clear who is to
serve the Council with the written order and bundle. With regard to Section 7 or Section 37
reports, the court will arrange for the order to be sent with any supporting documentation to
either Cafcass or the Council’s Legal Department within 5 working days. The court’s
attention should be drawn to the fact that any delay in receipt of orders / papers may result in
a request from the Council or Cafcass for the timescale to be extended.
Cafcass will assist the courts to identify cases that may need information from and/or
enquiries by the Council.
Cafcass and the Council will not act on any oral instructions without a written order from
10 Information Sharing and Safeguarding
If Cafcass receives any information that suggests that a child was previously at risk from
witnessing significant harm (Section 120 Adoption and Children Act 2002) but there is
insufficient information to require an immediate child protection referral, Cafcass will
provide notification to the relevant Children’s Social Care Team where the child is presently
living of all the available information and inform the court that such a notification has been
given. Cafcass will also advise the Children’s Social Care Team when Cafcass involvement
has ended and the final outcome of the court case.
If the request for information or a report comes from a solicitor not directed by the court
representing a parent or a child, Children’s Social Care are under no obligation to provide a
The FCA will include any indicators of possible harm to children within their assessment and
will refer to the relevant Children and Social Care Team accordingly.
If at any stage of court proceedings and/or the Cafcass assessment there are concerns about
the possible or actual harm of a child, the FCA will contact the relevant Safeguarding Unit.
If a referral seems appropriate, written information will be prepared for the relevant
Children’s Social Care Team as an Initial Assessment of Need and the court will be notified.
11 Consulting the Child
Taking into account the child’s maturity and understanding, the 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.
The national expectations for timescales for completion of reports by Cafcass is as follows:
a. wishes and feelings report in not more than 6 weeks
b. a single issue report in not more than 6 weeks
c. a report covering more than one particularised issue in 6-12 weeks, depending on the
nature/complexity of the issues to be addressed
d. where an officer of Cafcass is required to make a risk assessment under s.16A Children
Act 1989, in 6-8 weeks.
Until 31 March 2010, the timescale for either Cafcass or Children’s Social Care to provide a
report under section 7 is at least 12 weeks and a maximum of 16 weeks from receipt of the
relevant papers for the report to be filed, subject to local agreement, any exceptional
circumstances and the welfare of the child. If exceptional circumstances are present, the court
may seek the specific agreement of the agency to produce a report in a shorter timeframe.
The timescale for Children’s Social Care to provide a report under section 37 is 8 weeks
from receipt of order and papers.
The Court will specify issues for assessment when ordering either a Section 7 or Section 37
Those 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
This might for example be as a result of anticipated difficulties for various reasons of
meeting the timescale for filing the report.
Both agencies have a responsibility to consult at all stages where this will avoid doubt and
delay as to who should prepare the report. In the interests of the welfare of the child and
avoiding delay, the expectation is that the relevant Social Care Manager and the Cafcass
Manager work together to resolve such disagreements promptly. If there is a dispute which
cannot be resolved at this level it should be escalated to the relevant locality manager. If still
unresolvable, they may return to the Court for direction.
This Protocol will be implemented on 4th January 2010 .
15. Monitoring and Review
This protocol will be reviewed six months from implementation within the joint Cafcass and
Council meeting and by the Family Court Business Committee.