Cafcass Positive co-Parenting Programme: Briefing

Following a previous pilot and evaluation, the Cafcass Positive co-Parenting Programme has been embedded into practice for suitable Rule 16.4 cases nationally, where harmful conflict is the most significant case factor. It is also being trialled in Section 7 cases for professionals considering using CPPP in their cases.

What is CPPP?

The Cafcass Positive Co-Parenting Programme (CPPP) is a voluntary programme for families which provides structured sessions to parents in family proceedings. Over four sessions within a 12-week period, a solution focussed, systemic approach will be used. Techniques to be used in the sessions include motivational interviewing and reflective approaches aimed at promoting mutual empathy and mentalisation (keeping the child in mind). The expectation is that parents should attend at least one joint meeting. The CPPP model aims to explore the child’s experience and help them to explain this to their parents, to refocus parents to make child-centred arrangements. A report detailing any agreement reached and or recommendations as to the future arrangements will be filed.

What are the aims of the programme?

To provide added value for children and families in specified private law cases by:

• Creating a structured intervention for suitable cases to promote more timely case resolution;
• Reducing parental conflict and the harmful impact this has on their children;
• Providing a clear plan to progress individual cases, and minimise the duration of proceedings and;
• Promoting transparent case management expectations among all family members involved in proceedings and the judiciary for cases where CPPP and the need for ongoing court involvement is identified.

What are the benefits for children and families?

The programme can:

• Help parents to understand their child’s perspective and to adapt their approach accordingly.
• Provide a forum for parents to explore solutions that can meet theirs and their child’s needs.
• Encourage open, honest communication between parents and children using written letters.
• Help parents to reach their own agreements together, by consent, outside of court hearings.
• Help provide parents with tools to reach solutions that will work for them and their child(ren) now and in the future.

CPPP pilot

CPPP was originally developed by Cafcass in early 2017 for use in Rule 16.4 cases where an FCA has assessed the level of parental conflict to be causing distress to the child and this may be impacting on their wellbeing and their outcomes. Following encouraging findings from a pilot phase on cases referred to CPPP from November 2017 to February 2019, Cafcass has embedded CPPP into its national practice model in suitable Rule 16.4 cases. Pilot findings were based on information logged in Cafcass’ electronic case management system, case file reviews, and feedback from staff, stakeholders and parents.
During the pilot period CPPP was offered to 156 families, of which 69% (107) agreed to participate. At the point of evaluation in May 2019, 73 families had completed CPPP and 34 were currently undergoing CPPP. The remaining 49 families did not complete CPPP. Based on the 73 families who had completed CPPP at the point of the evaluation, the pilot found:

• CPPP was able to be used as a structured intervention to promote more timely case resolution: On average, the CPPP intervention was completed within 10.7 weeks. At the point of evaluation in May 2019, of the 73 cases that had completed CPPP, 63% had no further work ordered from Cafcass after the CPPP report was filed. For context, the average duration of closed Rule 16.4 cases is 66 weeks, with the order for a Rule 16.4 being made on average after 25 weeks and the final hearing being held 40 weeks after the Rule 16.4 is ordered. In 2018/19, 46% of Rule 16.4 cases had no further work ordered after the first report under Rule 16.4.
Fewer cases returning to court: 33 cases which had completed CPPP before July 2018 have been tracked over a longer period of time to see if they return. As of January 2020, one case remains open. Of the 32 closed cases, only three have returned to court (9%). This is currently lower than the national average for returning cases: previous Cafcass research shows that around 30% of private law cases return to court. 63% of these return with two years. (It is to be noted, however, that these previous studies have used slightly different methodology: focussing on private law cases generally, rather than Rule 16.4 cases only; and taking a cohort of cases at a point in time and looking back to understand what proportion had been involved in previous proceedings).
FCAs stated that CPPP more work on a case initially but that overall it required no more additional hours of work than a standard Rule 16.4 case. Staff were asked to rate the effectiveness of CPPP compared to standard Rule 16.4 approaches across four of the aims of the CPPP intervention (reducing parental conflict; safeguarding the child’s best interests; reaching a more timely case conclusion; and ensuring a proportionate use of FCA time). Across all measures, staff rated CPPP as more effective than a standard Rule 16.4.
A small sample of fifteen parents who had participated in CPPP were interviewed. Of these, 71% (10) reached some form of agreement as a result of the joint CPPP meeting had as part of CPPP. Some parents stated CPPP had marked a breakthrough in communication and also commented on the positive impact of the child’s letter.

What is the process for referring suitable families to CPPP?

CPPP can be recommended by a Family Court Adviser in Rule 16.4 or Section 7 cases, after considering the Child Impact Assessment Framework menu of options for responding to harmful conflict. If a judge wants to suggest that a family engage with the CPPP the FCA must complete an assessment of suitability, referring to the CPPP suitability criteria tool, before CPPP is confirmed. CPPP is a Cafcass intervention and therefore should not be used without the recommendation of an FCA.

The same suitability criteria will be used in Section 7 cases as for 16.4 cases, with the additional expectation that a S7 is already being completed for the family, or that a S7 is being recommended from first hearing. This measure is important to ensure the rate of ordering of S7s is not increased. CPPP may therefore be referred:

• During work to first hearing assessment, harmful conflict may be identified as a significant risk. If the family meet the suitability criteria, the safeguarding letter can then include advice for a Section 7 and a request for CPPP to be progressed. The duty officer at the first hearing can identify with the parents whether they consent and are suitable for the programme. The court can then choose to reflect this in the court order.
• During Section 7 reporting, if it is identified that CPPP would be an appropriate intervention, the allocated FCA should advise the court and negotiate sufficient additional time (if required) with the court, to complete the intervention.
• If during the Section 7 assessment, it is identified that the case meets the threshold for 16.4 and also meets the CPPP suitability criteria, the court should be advised as such and timetabling scheduled to reflect this.
• Where Rule 16.4 work has already begun, and it is identified during the assessment that CPPP would be a suitable intervention, the allocated guardian should advise the court and negotiate an order providing for sufficient timetabling.

The FCA will consider the need for referral to the local authority for consideration of assessment as a Child in Need or for Section 47, if the level of emotional harm to the child may be reaching these thresholds.

SPIP will be considered as a preferred addition to the order for cases involved with the CPPP. The court will therefore be advised to include this in the order. (This will be subject to local resource, realistic timeframes and whether the parties have previously attended and when).

How will an extension to CPPP affect demand?

Demand for Rule 16.4 and Section 7 cases should not increase as a result of CPPP. Our evaluation showed it may help to reduce demand in long-term cases, as cases using CPPP are less likely to return to court.

The programme should only be used in cases which would be under Rule 16.4 or Section 7 anyway, and where the CPPP suitability criteria apply.

Next Steps:

Implementation in r16.4 cases: Following the positive findings of the evaluation, Cafcass will embed CPPP as a routine option in suitable Rule 16.4 cases.

Trial extension to Section 7 cases:

Cafcass will now extend its CPPP programme to families involved in Section 7 assessments on a trial basis. This is driven by feedback from our Service Managers suggesting FCAs had identified families involved in Section 7 assessment as potentially suitable for the programme. We therefore want to assess whether offering the intervention at the earliest possible point in proceedings could avoid further escalation of conflict and assist early resolution of child arrangements before the issues become further entrenched.

The trial extension will collect data to allow Cafcass and its partners to assess the impact of CPPP in S7 and 16.4 cases, including:

• Number of cases considered suitable for CPPP, the take-up and completion rates;
• Impact on overall case duration (and duration from point CPPP commences);
• Impact on further hearings and conversion to further work including addendum S7s and 16.4s;
• Impact on returning cases in the longer-term.

In six months, the programme extension will be reviewed, taking on board feedback from our Service Managers and partners and in consultation with the President’s Private Law Working Group.