Child Welfare Reports – what are they and what do they do?
Sometimes you need a Court to decide on the arrangements for your child.
In cases where a Sheriff is asked to make a decision in relation to the arrangements for the care of a child or in respect of contact / access, between a parent and child a Sheriff must make a decision based on what the Sheriff considers to be in the child’s best interests.
When a Court action is raised in respect of arrangements for children and is defended, the Court automatically fixes a Hearing known as a Child Welfare Hearing. For more information in respect of Child Welfare Hearings please see Macleod & MacCallum’s Client Briefing here.
The purpose of the Child Welfare Hearing is to enable the Sheriff to identify the issues in dispute and to establish all relevant information that will help the Sheriff in making the best for the child. In order to do this the Sheriff may appoint an independent person to investigate further and provide a report and make recommendations. This person is known as a Child Welfare Reporter.
The Child Welfare Reporter can only be appointed by a Sheriff as part of the Court process. When ordering a Child Welfare Report the Sheriff will decide who the Reporter should speak with / interview, whether that be the child’s mother or father, the child themselves (dependent on age and maturity), or professionals such as Health Visitors or Head Teachers or GPs. The list of people the Sheriff wishes to be interviewed is noted in a standard Court form (Form F44). This means that the Child Welfare Reporter only speaks to those identified by the Sheriff, and not those requested by either parent or their solicitors.
Child Welfare Reporters are usually independent solicitors, experienced in Family Law.
Generally speaking, the Pursuer (the person who raised the Court action) will be liable for the costs incurred by the Child Welfare Reporter. In many cases, however, the Sheriff will decide to split the cost of the Report between the parties involved (the Pursuer and the Defender). If you are in receipt of legal aid, the Sheriff can order that the costs of the Report be met by a legal aid certificate which is in place for either party. Depending on the status of your legal aid application the Scottish Legal Aid Board may have to be consulted regarding the payment of a Child Welfare Report but your solicitor will be able to advise you in respect of this.
The Child Welfare Reporter will contact both parties in writing to arrange a face to face meeting. In the majority of cases he or she will try and meet you at your home and will often want to see you alone on one occasion and then potentially again together with your child(ren). Child Welfare Reporters do not record the meetings, but will take notes when interviewing you. It is understandable that you might be nervous when meeting the Child Welfare Reporter for the first time but try and relax and act naturally, speaking with them in the same way that you would speak with your own solicitor.
The Child Welfare Reporter will then prepare a written Report for the Court, often referencing their conversations with each parent and any other professionals or family members interviewed. The Child Welfare Reporter will make recommendations and on occasion can suggest that a further Report be ordered, such as a child psychologist Report. In the vast majority of cases a Sheriff will place significant weight upon the recommendations made by the Child Welfare Reporter, although the Sheriff does not have to follow them and always makes his or her own decision.
The whole reporting process can take between six to eight weeks and the Child Welfare Report will be lodged with the Court and copies issued to the solicitors acting on behalf of both parties. The Child Welfare Report is to be lodged with the Court three clear days in advance of any Child Welfare Hearing fixed, to give you the time to discuss the contents of the Report and any recommendations made, with your solicitor prior to the Hearing.
If a Child Welfare Report has been ordered in your case and you have any further questions don’t hesitate to get in touch with your solicitor.