Sarah Parsons, Cafcass principal social worker and assistant director, has written a practical guide to writing section 7 reports for Community Care Inform Children. These are a few key tips from the guide; subscribers to Inform can read the full guide, based on best practice at Cafcass, and access the new knowledge and practice hub on court skills.
Writing section 7 reports can be challenging for social workers who have more experience of public than private law proceedings. But the principles behind writing a good section 7 report are the same as for any other kind of court report – and taking an analytical approach can help with both quality and clarity.
Analytical report writing gives a picture of the child’s situation that leaps off the page. As opposed to a narrative, chronological approach, the focus throughout is on your analysis of the information you have gathered through your work on the case: your evidence base. This approach means you quickly get to the heart of the issues affecting the child. It also helps your recommendations hold more weight with the court.
Section 7 reports
The court has the power to require a report to allow it to become better informed about the welfare of a child.
Section 7 reports can be required in a range of circumstances:
- where there is a dispute over where a child should live;
- where there is a dispute over arrangements for spending time with a child (child arrangements orders);
- where there are applications to stop one parent or carer from exercising their parental responsibility (a prohibited steps order);
- to determine a specific issue, such as what type of education the child has, to make decisions on medical treatment or moving abroad (specific issue orders).
Writing a report
- Start planning early. Planning the structure of your report and beginning the writing process at the start when you are allocated the case, when you are thinking about the key issues at hand and how you will approach these, will help to focus it.
- Avoid repetition. Court reports can be page after page of essentially ‘he said, she said,’ with analysis left until the conclusion. This approach inevitably leads to repetition, which can detract from the impact of the report. Instead, aim to weave your analysis around the facts of the case.
- Ask yourself ‘what does this mean to the child?’. We should ask ourselves the question ‘so what’ at the end of each paragraph we write. Consider how the information is relevant to assessing the key issues of the application made by the parent or carer, and the impact on the welfare of the child. The child’s welfare should be at the centre of a report.