1.4.5 Section 7 and Section 37 Reports

SCOPE OF THS CHAPTER

This policy applies when a court directs the local authority to produce a report under section 7 or section 37 of the Children Act 1989.

  • Section 7 applies when a court is considering a question with respect to a child under the Children Act. The court may instruct CAFCASS or the local authority to arrange for an officer to report to it on specified matters relating to the child's welfare;
  • Section 37 applies in any family proceedings in which a question arises with respect to the welfare of a child. If it appears to the court that it may be appropriate to make a Care Order or a Supervision Order it may direct the local authority to investigate the child's circumstances.

Section 7 and section 37 reports are both defined as private law proceedings.

In public law proceedings (such as care proceedings) the local authority is a party to the proceedings, usually as the applicant. In private law proceedings the local authority is not a party. The dispute is largely a private dispute between, for example, the parents of a child.

This chapter was added to the manual in May 2018.

1. Section 7 Reports

1.1 When Should the Order for a Section 7 Report come to the Local Authority?

A Section 7 report is requested by the judge in private law proceedings about an aspect of the child's welfare, usually contact or residency. When the local authority is requested to do this, it is usually because the local authority has been involved with the family either currently or historically. However the judge will decide when making the order if social care or CAFCASS should complete the section 7 report. Good Practice Guidance is available from the ADCS/Cafcass on determining whether Cafcass or a local authority should prepare a section 7 report.

1.2 Receiving a Direction for a Section 7 Report

Request for an order will be made by the court. When the court directs an order from the local authority, the order will be sent by the court to the local authority at: C&FScreeningTeam@sheffield.gov.uk.

The Sheffield Safeguarding Hub will then identify whether the children have an allocated social worker. Where they do, the Order will be sent to the allocated social worker and the Senior Fieldwork Manager. Where the case is not currently allocated, the order will be screened in, relevant checks undertaken and sent to relevant fieldwork area for allocation.

Attached to a section 7 request will be an order from court. Read this order carefully as it may request certain information. Keep referring to this order in preparing the section 7/37 report. Keep to the timetable and file in good time via the court email. Your line manager should proof-read this report before filing.

You will usually be given 12 weeks to complete a section 7 report and 8 weeks for a Section 37 from the date of the order.

If under rare circumstances you need an extension then you should discuss this with your line manager. Email the Court using the email address and using the style of subject header set out in section 4. You should explain why you need more time, say how long you need and the date by when you could supply the report, and ask the Court to consider granting you an extension. You should make a request like this as soon as you can. You are less likely to succeed if you leave it to the last minute.

Similarly if you think the Court has not sent all the relevant paperwork to enable you to do the report you should write to the Court as shown below, asking for any missing details.

You may have a legal query about the report. If so you should raise your query with Legal Services, either through the duty phone or during one of the drop-in legal sessions on site.

Your manager will allocate the child/ren to you and will attach a manager's action plan which needs to be followed. You will also need to complete a social care single assessment and hold regular Child in Need (CIN) meetings in line with practice standards. You will also undertake home visits in accordance with practice standards.

A Child in Need meeting should be arranged within 10 days of allocation and thereafter every 40 working days. Child in Need cases must be visited every 20 working days.

1.3 Preparing a Section 7 or Section 37 Report

The court directions should be specific about the issues to be addressed in the report. The social worker should ensure that s/he is clear about what is required – if the court has specified that certain matters should be dealt with in the report, then the report produced must focus on these issues.

Section 7 reports are generally requested when there is disagreement about with whom a child should live and have contact. The Social Worker preparing the report should therefore see the child with each person, if the child is having contact with the person, for whom the question of residence or contact arises. The Social Worker should also see the child alone unless it seems inappropriate to do so, and should note any views or wishes expressed by the child and attempt to form an opinion as to whether these views are spontaneous or the result of pressure from any adult.

The author of a Section 7/37 report will seek to establish the circumstances and the perceptions of the person/s relevant to the child, and whether or not an Order is necessary and in the best interests of the child.

There is a requirement to investigate the circumstances of the child. The social worker will be guided by the 'Welfare Checklist' whilst being mindful of the issues before the Court and the directions in the Order.

When compiling a Section 7 report and a Section 37 report, the Social Worker should use the following headings as a framework: (There may be additional headings depending on what the Court Order is requesting)

  • Name of Social Worker, qualifications, HCPC registration;
  • Purpose of the Report;
  • Background;
  • History of Social Care's Services and other agency interventions;
  • Profile of the child;
  • Profile of parent/s or carer/s who are party to the proceedings;
  • The response of the family members to the current circumstances;
  • A summary of the Social Worker's assessment which must address the reasons the Court gave for requesting the report;
  • The Social Worker's comments regarding the 'Welfare Checklist'.

The Welfare Checklist

When the Family Court is making a decision on matters that will affect a child, the Court is required to look at the welfare of the child as the paramount consideration. The 'Welfare Checklist' consists of seven statutory criteria that the Court must consider under the Children Act 1989 when reaching its decision in cases involving children. Areas you need to consider in relation to the welfare checklist are:

1. The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned

The Court must consider the wishes and feelings of the child, taking into account the child's age and level of understanding in the circumstances. This will normally be determined by the local authority Social Worker, and reported to the Court. In some cases, a Judge may speak directly with a child to determine their wishes and feelings, if this is deemed appropriate and necessary.

The Court will take into account whether or not a child's wishes and feelings are their own, or whether outside factors may have influenced their decisions. There may also be a conflict of opinion between the parents'/guardians' views and that of the child. The Court will balance the views of the parties concerned, including the views of a child who is of an understanding age and mature enough to form their own opinions.

2. The child's physical, emotional and educational needs

The Court will consider who is in the best position to provide for the child's emotional, physical and educational needs. A child's emotional needs can be more difficult to deal with, and the Court will consider who is best able to provide for the emotional needs of the child – both in the short term and long term.

3. The likely effect on the child of changes in circumstances

The potential impact of changes to the child's life will be considered. The Court will aim to make an Order that causes the least disruption to a child's life; however, this will be balanced against other factors which need to be considered.

4. The child's age, sex, background and other relevant characteristics

The Court will consider specific issues such as religion, race and culture when making a decision about a child. They may also take the parents'/guardians' hobbies and lifestyle choices into account if they feel this will impact the child's life, either now or in future.

5. Risk of harm to the child

The Court will look at the risk of harm to the child. This means immediate risk of harm, as well as the risk of harm in the future. 'Harm' includes physical, emotional and mental harm. The Court will weigh up the potential risk of harm to the child in future and make an Order as appropriate. An Order may include safety measures to protect the child.

6. Parents' ability to meet the child's needs

The Court will consider how able each parent is to care for the child and to meet their particular needs. This will be subjective and depend on the facts and circumstance of each case – the needs of the child and the abilities of the parents concerned.

7. The range of powers available to the Court

The Court must weigh up all the factors under the 'Welfare Checklist', and consider all available Orders within their discretion. It will then make the Order that is in the best interests of the child.

The Court will consider the social worker's comments regarding the 'No Order' principle and its relevance to the case and the social worker's conclusions and recommendations with reasons.

The social worker should discuss their report and recommendations with their Senior Fieldwork Manager in supervision. The recommendations should take account of Section 8 Orders, or any other Order, available to the Court under the Children Act 1989. Before filing, the Section 7/ 37 report should also be proof-read by the Senior Fieldwork Manager.

As well as following the above layout the report should be written succinctly and based on fact and not hearsay. If hearsay is used it needs to be recorded as such. The report needs to be written as a court document.

The statement should therefore be formatted as follows:

  • Arial font size 12 in black;
  • 1.5 line spaced;
  • Paginated;
  • Numerically paragraph numbered (ie 1,2,3 and not 1.1, 1.2, 1.3);
  • And spell and grammar checked.

If, in the course of the investigation, the Social Worker feels that action should be taken under the child protection procedures, s/he must immediately consult the Senior Fieldwork Manager and, if section 47 enquiries are initiated, notify the court of this. The section 7/37 report and the section 47 enquiries will run side by side. The court will expect to be kept informed of the progress of the assessment, and the child protection conference should consider whether making one or more section 8 orders would address the child's need for protection.

1.4 Filing a Section 7 Report

When the report has been read and agreed by your manager it can be filed. Ensure you file on time. It needs to be filed at the Court. You do this by emailing it to the Court using your secure email to: Family@sheffield.countycourt.gov.uk.

You need to make sure that you complete the subject header of the email. You need to identify the case as private, that you are filing a document, give the family name of the children and the date of the next hearing in the subject header, e.g:

Subject: Private Law – Filing – Smith Children – Case No. SE17P01263 – Next hearing 14.02.18

If you file the report on time it is the Court's role to serve the report on the other parties. The filing arrangements for a Section 37 report are the same as a section 7.

There is only a requirement to attend Court when the Court has stated this on the Order. However, even if this has not been ordered you may attend if you wish and the Court would probably be grateful for the assistance. You will not however be represented by the local authority's legal team.

2. Section 37 Reports

2.1 Section 37 Reports: Legal Duties

On receiving a direction under Section 37, the local authority must investigate the child's circumstances and decide whether to:

  • Apply for a Care Order or for a Supervision Order; or
  • Provide services or assistance for the child or for his/her family; or
  • Take any other action.

If the local authority after investigating, decides not to initiate care proceedings, it must inform the court in writing of:

  • The reasons for taking this decision;
  • Any service or assistance which it has provided or intends to provide for the child and her/his family;
  • Any other action which it has taken, or intends to take, with respect to the child.

2.2 Receiving a Direction for a Section 37 Report

Requests for a Section 37 order will be made by the court. When the Court directs an Order from the Local Authority the Order should be sent by the Court to the Local Authority at: C&FScreeningTeam@sheffield.gov.uk.

The Sheffield Safeguarding Hub will then identify whether the children have an allocated social worker. Where they do the Order will be sent to the allocated social worker and the Senior Fieldwork Manager. Where the case is not currently allocated the order will be screened in, relevant checks undertaken and sent to the relevant fieldwork area for allocation.

Attached to a section 37 request will be an order from court. Read this order carefully as it may request certain information. Keep referring to this order in preparing the section 37 report. Keep to the timetable and file in good time via the court email. Your line manager should proof-read this report before filing. You will usually be given 8 weeks to complete this report from the date of the order.

You may have a query about the report. If so you should raise your query with Legal Services, either through the duty phone or during one of the drop-in legal sessions on site.

Your manager will allocate the child/ren to you and will attach a manager's action plan which needs to be followed. You will also need to complete a social care single assessment and hold regular Child in Need (CIN) meetings in line with practice standards. You will also undertake home visits in accordance with practice standards.

A Child in Need meeting should be arranged within 10 days of allocation and thereafter every 40 working days. Child in Need cases must be visited every 20 working days.

The Social Worker should:

  • Study any documents served with the directions and ensure that s/he understands their significance;
  • Consider any directions regarding the investigations to be carried out; and
  • Decide whether it is possible to complete the necessary work before the date set for reporting back to the court. If it is unlikely that investigations will be complete by that date, the Social Worker must discuss the situation with their manager as soon as this is known, as an application will have to be made to the court for an extension of time.

A Social Worker preparing a Section 37 report does not have an automatic right to read all the reports filed with the court and it may be helpful to seek directions from the court allowing the worker to see any relevant reports that have been withheld. If this is relevant, seek legal advice.

2.3 Making the Decision

The Social Worker and Senior Fieldwork Manager will discuss the significance of the information collected, including the views of the children's guardian. They will decide whether the local authority should initiate care proceedings and, if not, what alternative action to take. If it is determined that an application for an Interim Supervision Order or Interim Care Order is required the Senior Fieldwork Manager needs to discuss this at Case Management. If this meeting determines that Care Proceedings are required this should progress to the Legal Gateway meeting.

As the local authority is not a party to the proceedings, the Social Worker would not routinely be entitled to legal representation at the Court hearing. However, if the Social Worker and /or the Senior Fieldwork Manager believe legal representation is required, then legal representation at the hearing may be sought and will be considered on a case by case basis. (Whilst this is not considered as the norm, it would certainly be considered suitable if the circumstances were becoming complex. For example, if it appeared that the Court may be contemplating making an Interim Care Order to the local authority). In any event, legal advice can be sought prior to presenting the report and appearing in Court.

The Social Worker responsible for preparing the report will generally need to be present at Court when the application is heard and should be prepared to give oral evidence in support of the information contained in their report.

The court should not make an order based on the report: if the decision is that care proceedings should be initiated, an application must be made using the initial statement template and care plan.

2.4 The Section 37 Report

The template and guidance in section 3 should be followed in respect of completing a section 37 report. However the author needs to be aware that this is a report requested by a Court under Section 37 of the Children Act 1989. The Court requires the Local Authority to assess the level of 'Significant Harm' to the child and report back on whether public law care proceedings should be initiated.

The purpose of the Section 37 report is for the Local Authority to consider whether it should apply for a Care Order or Supervision Order in respect of the child or whether it is appropriate to provide other services or assistance for the child.

However, you should not necessarily limit the conclusion to whether or not care proceedings should be issued. The Court will expect a recommendation as to the best legal arrangements for the children concerned if the Local Authority is not to start proceedings itself. It may be for example that your position is that the children can be adequately protected through private law orders.

Remember that if a decision is made to start care proceedings and such an application will be made before the section 37 report is due to be filed, you do not have to file the report, and you can concentrate on preparing the evidence for the care proceedings. It would however be courteous to let the Court and the parties know that a decision has been made to start proceedings.

The report needs to be formatted and filed in the same way as the section 7 report once it has been proof-read and agreed by the Senior Fieldwork Manager.