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Systemic Family Assessment (private law)

Addressing private law disputes seeking timely resolution for children

WillisPalmer’s Systemic Family Assessment is a new and innovative service designed to address private law disputes by providing the court with expert analysis and recommendations in a bid to resolve parental conflict and produce the best outcomes for children.

Private law applications are typically made following a divorce or separation about arrangements for children, such as where a child will live or with whom a child will spend time.

Based on the success of WillisPalmer’s existing multi-disciplinary models and our in-depth understanding of public and private law, we have designed the model to best meet the needs of parents locked in conflict and to prevent the child or children involved experiencing significant distress.

The Systemic Family Assessment or SFA has been introduced to address the backlog of private law cases and to resolve problems surrounding parental alienation and contact disputes regarding children in a timely and efficient manner, placing the child at the heart of all outcomes.

The problem

There has been an increase in demand for private law cases and, according to Cafcass, in April 2021, they received 3,648 new private law cases – a massive 42.7% rise or 1,092 cases more than the same period in 2020.

In private law, there is often not a clear timeframe for cases to reach a conclusion and decisions to be made about the subject child or children.

Children who are central to private law disputes experience a significant impact on their emotional wellbeing as a result of:

  • Having divided loyalties
  • Witnessing highly conflicted parents
  • Being exposed to issues and parental views that are of an adult nature so cannot be fully comprehended and made sense of by a child.

Furthermore, these children are likely to feel unsettled, confused, resentful towards one or both parents, and these feelings may impact on their education and social lives as well as their mental health and emotional wellbeing. They may grow up with a distorted view of relationships and family life which will, in turn, affect the intimate and family relationships they will form as adults.

On top of all of these issues, these children are subjected to private law proceedings that are often lengthy and protracted. The child may have to meet with numerous professionals to repeatedly share their wishes and feelings, and they will undoubtedly be affected by the way the proceedings are impacting on their parents, often hearing information that should be kept between the adults and maybe experiencing a change in how emotionally available their parents are to them due to the preoccupation of proceedings over an extended period of time.

The longer the proceedings continue, the more harm the child is likely to suffer and subsequently the likelihood of this harm affecting the child throughout their minority and into their adult life is significantly increased.

It is therefore in the best interests for children involved in private law cases for the proceedings to be concluded as promptly as it is safe to do so, and delay to be minimised wherever possible.

The SFA model

The SFA is a multidisciplinary assessment model with a clear timeframe, to address private law disputes and provide the court with the expert analysis it needs to be able to make final decisions for children in a timely manner.

For disputes that cannot be resolved following a Section 7 report from Cafcass, there is often a need for further expert intervention to fully assess the issues that are preventing the matter from being concluded.

The SFA is a multi-disciplinary assessment that incorporates psychological profiling of the parents and a social work analysis of the needs of the child, taking into consideration the Welfare Checklist.

The social work analysis considers the relationship each child has with their parents and siblings (if relevant) before providing an expert view about the impact of the family system on the child/ren and clear recommendations about how to minimise any negative effect on the child.

Two experts – a psychologist and independent social worker – work together, in consultation with one another, to provide a full assessment and final report in six weeks from instruction. This report, which will be scrutinised through our robust quality assurance process will allow the court to be in a position to proceed with a final hearing and make decisions about the child.

In some instances, this will prevent the need for the child to be joined as a party to the proceedings and a Children’s Guardian appointed under rule 16.4.

Who can use the SFA model?

The SFA can be adapted to both private law and public law proceedings (see our separate page on public law proceedings).

Professionals or organisations likely to instruct WillisPalmer for a SFA are local authorities, solicitors who work with local authorities and private law solicitors.

Benefits of SFA

  • It provides a timely resolution for children preventing them from experiencing further emotional turmoil.
  • Parents benefit from expert professionals working in tandem which prevents the parents and child or children having to repeat their views, feelings and wishes to numerous professionals.
  • It is a cost-effective model, within legal aid agency rates.
  • The SFA report will address all issues raised to enable the court to proceed with a final hearing.
  • WillisPalmer’s professionals are highly trained, experienced and have a wealth of expertise.
  • WillisPalmer has been providing multi-disciplinary services for children for more than 17 years.
  • All final reports are subjected to our robust Quality Assurance Process, ensuring the highest standards are adhered to in every report.

What people say about WillisPalmer

I have used WillisPalmer on a number of occasions over the last 2 years. I have always found the team to be reliable, responsive and professional in handling my enquiries and managing business relations.

L L – Lawyer

Contact details

For more information about our new innovative SFA model, please contact our Head of Services Dave Wareham or Head of Practice Lucy Hopkins who can answer any questions you may have relating to the service.

Dave Wareham dave@willispalmer.com 01206 878169

Lucy Hopkins lucy@willispalmer.com 01206 878173

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