Putting children and young people first in the family courts


"Understanding the unique needs of each child"

Cafcass has adapted and introduced new tools to support our direct work with children with disabilities or other additional needs, under a recent assessment tools review.

Incorporating visual prompts, the tools support children with additional needs, such as audio impairment or limited verbal language skills, to communicate their wishes and feelings. Our practitioners use the tools to explore the child’s situation and gain a better understanding of their experience of the adults and world around them. Paired with social work skills, the tools help us identify and assess the important issues for the children we work. 


The tools

Newly introduced is an adapted ‘worry meter’, used with our emotion stickers to add depth to the feeling the child or young person has picked. The meter (from ‘little bit happy’ to ‘hugely happy’) helps children to demonstrate the extent of the emotions they’re feeling, such as feeling safe, happy, worried or sad.

Another resource introduced under the tools matrix is a board game which helps build a sense of trust with the child or young person. The emotions on the board allow them to openly discuss their thoughts and feelings without feeling like they are being questioned. It’s made to feel like a game, and the practitioner will join in and share thoughts and feelings.

One tool already available under the original assessment toolkit is the ‘I’ll go first’ resource pack. The tool and accompanying guidance was developed by the Children’s Society for and with children with disabilities, and includes colourful illustrations and simple headings. It depicts different scenes which make communication more meaningful for children, supporting their understanding and acting as a prompt for them to share their wishes and feelings. The tool has been adapted for our work, with additional scenes to help explain our role and the court.  




Interactive tools

Responding to children’s increasing engagement with technology, Cafcass also worked together with Child and Family Training to develop two children’s apps ‘This Much!’ and ‘Backdrop’. The apps are adjusted to suit Cafcass’ practice needs and can be used in a range of circumstances to ascertain children’s wishes and feelings. They are suitable to support work with young people who have mental health problems or learning disabilities. They also help those who find communicating challenging, and are particularly useful as an alternative where the young person has found it difficult to respond to other methods of direct work.

‘Backdrop’ features scenes such as ‘my house’ or ‘my islands’ and allows a child or young person to write, draw, type or place figures on these customisable backdrops. In doing so, it prompts discussion about their life – feelings of safety, security, relationships or hopes, for example.

‘This Much!’ brings clarity to a specific issue in direct work with a child or young person, by helping them rate their perception of almost any experience, feeling, or relationship.


Opening up communication with vulnerable children

Talking of the importance of these tools in helping open up communication with vulnerable children, Sarah Parsons, Principal Social Worker and Assistant Director says, “We are committed to understanding the unique needs of each child we work with. The tools allow equal access to our service and support children with additional needs to share their wishes and feelings.

“In some cases we’re working with several children in one family, each with different needs, understanding and experiences of the separation. As well as the tools to ascertain children’s wishes and feelings, we have a range of assessment tools which help our practitioners to assess the resilience of each individual child. We need to bring their lived experience to life so we can represent and advocate for them as effectively as possible.” 



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