Paralegal Jasmine Galvin explains what Section 7 Reports are and why they may be needed in the child arrangements process.
What are Section 7 Reports?
Where there are welfare concerns within Private Law Children Act Proceedings, a report under Section 7 of the Children Act 1989 can be directed by the Court (known as a S7 Report). Such reports can be undertaken by either Cafcass or a relevant Local Authority if they are involved in the case or have recently been involved with the family.
Typically, S7 Reports are needed in child arrangements cases where there are concerns relating to a child’s health and wellbeing, but they can also be used if issues arise in relation to moving a child’s school (Specific Issue cases) and preventing a parent from using their Parental Responsibility in one form or another (Prohibited Steps cases). In situations where there have been allegations of domestic abuse, Practice Direction 12J must be considered where the abuse may affect the child and their upbringing.
What is the process for a Section 7 Report?
A S7 Report often takes between 12-16 weeks to complete and considers the following factors contained within s1(3) of the Children Act 1989:
(a)the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned (considered in the light of their age and understanding);
(b)his physical, emotional and educational needs;
(c)the likely effect on them of any change in his circumstances;
(d)his age, sex, background and any characteristics of his which the court considers relevant;
(e)any harm which they have suffered or is at risk of suffering;
(f)how capable each of his parents, and any other person in relation to whom the court considers the question to be relevant, is of meeting their needs;
(g)the range of powers available to the court under this Act in the proceedings in question.
As part of the process, the author may speak to the parents, wider family members and engage with a variety of professionals such as the child’s GP, health professionals and the child’s school.
They will speak to the parents separately and may, if appropriate speak to the child about their wishes and feelings and how often they would like to spend time with each parent (if they are of the appropriate age).
The reports often include background information in relation to the child and family, information obtained from third party professionals and safeguarding information.
Throughout the section 7 process it is important the parents remain child focused.
Why are Section 7 Reports important?
A S7 Report gives a full and detailed picture of the circumstances of the child and allows the court to get a full understanding in order to make a decision. The reports highlight important safety or welfare concerns the court needs to be aware of in order to make a decision. The overall purpose of the report to make final recommendations to the court regarding contact.
After the Section 7 Report has been written and filed on all parties, the case would be set down for a Dispute Resolution Appointment (DRA) to consider the recommendations of the report.
The S7 report sets out their recommendations to the court, these do not necessarily have to be agreed by the parties nor by the court. The general position of the court however is to follow the recommendations unless there are ‘cogent or compelling’ reasons to not follow these recommendations.
Can the report be challenged?
If the Section 7 is factually incorrect parents can raise these concerns and ask for the report to be reissued with the correct information. If simply the content of the report is disagreed with then it is advised parties raise this with the Judge so this can be taken into consideration. Parties can write a statement in response detailing these concerns which to be filed with the court.
We work with parents and children who have been appointed a guardian to help navigate this legal process. If you need legal support then please do get in touch.