Campaign group Families Need Fathers has moved to quash a “misunderstanding” over the status of new guidance on shared parenting for Cafcass staff following strong criticisms by two leading academics.
The charity is in the process of producing a series of guidance documents to promote the involvement of both parents in their children’s upbringing after separation.
The guidance intended for family court practitioners, which is being developed with the support of Cafcass, was recently slammed by two post-separation contact experts – Joan Hunt, senior research fellow at Oxford University’s department of social policy and social work, and Liz Trinder, Reader in Family Studies at Newcastle University.
In a letter sent to the Department for Children, Schools and Families, Cafcass and FNF among others, Hunt and Trinder said they had “grave concerns” over the apparent launch of the guidance without relevant stakeholders being consulted first.
The pair also outlined their misgivings over the advice given in the document and said that the evidence base used to back up the conclusions was “incomplete, inaccurate and deeply misleading”.
But FNF project leader Craig Pickering responded that the guidance was at a draft stage and had not been given the green light. He said: “They think that Cafcass are about to roll this out, but they’re not. There was a misunderstanding between us and Cafcass, so initially misleading messages were put out, but I think that’s all straight now. They are not final documents.”
50/50 parenting charge
Pickering also deflected criticism by Hunt and Trinder who said that the guidance would have the effect of introducing a presumption of a 50/50 division of the child’s time between both parents, in contradiction of the current legal position which makes the welfare of the child paramount.
He said: “If you read our draft, that says quite plainly that shared parenting is not the same as 50/50. Obviously, 50/50 doesn’t always suit the children’s circumstances.”
However, Pickering accepted that there were some shortcomings with the research base.
Cafcass: concerns will be addressed
Cafcass confirmed that the draft guidance had not been distributed to staff. A spokesperson said: “Cafcass was involved in its development, commenting on earlier drafts, and we will continue to work with FNF to help them develop a second edition which addresses the concerns raised by some researchers.
“The guidance is intended to offer a balanced approach to shared parenting which can be used by Cafcass practitioners where it is considered safe and appropriate to do so.
“The policy basis for the guidance is solidly rooted in the parental separation green and white papers, however its research basis and interpretation needs further work. We have encouraged FNF to address this and to work with the academics to make sure the interpretation of research is correct.”
Families Need Fathers urges Cafcass to back shared parenting