Family Assistance Order

Posted on Sunday, 30th Aug, 2015 at 12:12:17 AM
Under section 16 of the Children Act 1989 the court may make a family assistance order. This can last for up to twelve months and is designed to give expert help to families, particularly where there has been separation or divorce. Family assistance orders may be made even if the court makes no other order in respect of the child.

A family assistance order (FAO) is a voluntary order, in that the court may not make the order without the consent of everyone (other than any child) named in the order.

The court may make a family assistance order where it has power to make an order under Part II of the Act and there are exceptional circumstances. Under a family assistance order a local authority or probation officer will give advice and assistance to the person named in the order. This may be the child, a parent or guardian, or any person with whom the child lives or in whose favour a contact order is in force. Before a family assistance order can be made each person named in it (except the child) must give consent.

Family Assistance Orders direct a local authority or court welfare officer to "befriend" a family. These orders are intended to last for a short specified period of time.

The order may be made on the application of a parent - but are more usually made at the suggestion of the judge who may recognise that parents and children in a particular case need some focused support.

Family Assistance Orders can be designed to provide expert input - for example to help with deficits in parenting skills or to help resolve otherwise intractable disputes between parents about contact.

This order may be made in private or public applications. The emphasis is upon short-term involvement and giving assistance to families.

The two Departments would require any Family Assistance Order to have a very specific remit that has goals which can be achieved within the six month timescale. General support requirements would not be exceptional or specific enough.

The Order may name children or an adult or adults with whom a child lives or have a Child Arrangements Order, subject to their consent. The emphasis is on help and assistance and cannot be construed as a safety measure where the Court is uneasy as to the situation in which a child might be placed.

The Court has power to make Family Assistance Orders nominating either the Local Authority or an Officer of CAFCASS to undertake the work. It is important that the Court is aware of how the services expect such orders to operate.

The two services will usually operate from a different role:
CAFCASS will typically be involved in a range of cases where there is a dispute to be resolved, but where child care issues as such are minimal;
The Social Care Services will be involved in a range of cases where their role is normally pre-established by matters related to Children in Need or Child Protection.
A Family Assistance Order is seen as a provision which will be carried out generally by a Children and Family Reporter. Children Act 1989 Guidance Vol. 1 describes the purpose of the Order being to assist families through transitional difficulties arising from separation or divorce, with a focus on adults, not to supervise the safety of children.

If a Family Assistance Order is considered, it is essential that a Court has the benefit of a Section 7 Report before making an Order. Given the short-term nature of Orders, it is not expected that the Agency preparing the report will normally recommend a Family Assistance Order to its counterpart. Should such a step be proposed, neither service would recommend an Order without prior discussion and agreement with the appropriate worker, or where there is none, the responsible Team Manager. Furthermore, it would seem highly desirable that the Court is clear that the help it may seek for an individual of family:
Exists and can be provided and is not available elsewhere;
Is feasible in the circumstances;
Has the consent of the individual(s) concerned unless that person is a child;
Is preferable to no Order being made;
Cannot be provided on the basis of voluntary contact.

In my view Family Assistance Orders are an underutilized resource. One of the reasons for this is that the Court cannot make such an order without the consent of the parties and either the local authority or court welfare service (Cafcass). Local authorities are often resistant to such orders being made because of the pressure upon their resources.

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