The Welfare Checklist
The welfare checklist is a set of factors that the court must consider when making decisions about the welfare of a child in cases involving separated parents.
The primary focus in family proceedings can be highlighted by this question:
“What is in the best interests of the child?”
This means that the welfare of the child is the overriding factor to consider when making decisions about their care and upbringing.
In answering this question, the court and other professionals are guided by a criteria known as the Welfare Checklist.
The welfare checklist includes the following considerations:
- Taking the child’s feelings and wishes into account
- Considering the child’s physical, emotional, and educational needs
- Considering the likely effect on the child of any changes in their circumstances
- Considering the child’s age, sex, background, and any other relevant characteristics
- Considering any harm that the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering
- The capability of each of the child’s parents, and any other person in relation to whom the court considers the question to be relevant, to meet the child’s needs.
- The range of powers available to the court under the Children Act 1989 in the proceedings in question.
Let’s take a look at each of these factors in further detail:
“The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned (considered in the light of his age and understanding).”
The court may take into account the child’s views and opinions, such as where they will live or how much time they will spend with each parent. This is where services like CAFCASS are of great importance. If the child is old enough to understand, then a specially trained social worker from Cafcass will speak with the child and write a report of their findings for the judge.
Other factors to bear in mind are the child’s age and level of understanding, as this will affect the weight that is given to their views. For example, the views of a very young child, perhaps under 8 years, may not be given as much weight as the views of an older child who is more capable of expressing their wishes and feelings.
It is important to note that while the child’s views and wishes will be regarded, they will not necessarily be determinative of the outcome.
“Physical, emotional and educational needs”
The second point on the welfare checklist is to consider the child’s physical, emotional, and educational needs.
Physical needs include things like food, shelter, clothing, and medical care. Are the child’s physical needs being met? Are there any changes that need to be made to meet their needs?
Emotional needs include things like stability, security, and a sense of belonging. The emotional impact of any changes in the child’s circumstances, and whether the child’s emotional needs are being met.
Educational needs include things like schooling and access to learning resources.
“The likely effect on him of any change in his circumstances”
This focuses on how any proposed changes will affect the child? For example, if a child is used to living in a particular location or attending a certain school, the court may consider how a move to a new location or a change in schools may affect the child.
They may consider the child’s relationships with family members, friends, and other important people in their life. For example, if a child has a particularly close relationship with one parent or grandparent, they may look at how any changes may affect that relationship and the child’s emotional well-being.
“Age, sex, background and any characteristics of his which the court considers relevant”
This takes a holistic approach, considering the child’s age, sex, background, and other relevant characteristics. More specifically, any personal or cultural factors that may be important.
Age is an important consideration, as younger children may have different needs and abilities than older children. For example, a very young child may need more frequent contact with their parent, while an older child may benefit from more independence and time with their friends and peers.
Sex and gender may also be relevant factors, particularly in cases where there are cultural or religious considerations. The child’s background, including their ethnicity, religion, and cultural heritage, as well as any other personal or family characteristics that may be relevant.
The court may also consider any special needs that the child may have, such as a disability or medical condition, and how these needs may affect the child’s welfare.
“Any harm which he has suffered or is at risk of suffering”
This factor prioritises the safety of the child and focuses on any potential harm that the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering.
Harm can take many forms, including physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, neglect, and exposure to domestic violence or substance abuse. The court will consider any evidence of harm and its impact on the child’s physical, emotional, and educational needs.
This may include considering the capacity of each parent to provide safe and appropriate care for the child, as well as any past or current behaviour that may pose a risk to the child.
“How capable each of his parents, and any other person in relation to whom the court considers the question to be relevant, is of meeting his needs”
This means that the court will consider the capacity of each parent to provide safe and appropriate care for the child, as well as their ability to meet the child’s physical, emotional, and educational needs. They will also need to survey any other person who may have a significant role in the child’s life, such as grandparents, other relatives or new partners they live with.
Other important factors to review may include the parent’s health, financial stability, and ability to provide a stable and nurturing home environment. They may also look at the parent’s ability to meet the child’s cultural, linguistic, and religious needs.
“The range of powers available to the court under this Act in the proceedings in question”
The Children Act 1989 sets out the legal framework for decision-making in cases involving children. It provides the court with a range of powers and orders that can be used to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.
When considering the range of powers available, the court will look at the specific circumstances of the case and the needs of the child. They may consider orders such as:
- Residence orders – To determine with whom the child will live.
- Contact orders – To govern the frequency and type of contact that the child has with a non-resident parent or other significant person.
- Specific issue orders – To determine a specific issue, such as whuch school they should attend, medical care or holidays abroad.
- Prohibited steps orders – To prevent a specific action from being taken, such as removing the child from the country without permission or moving away to a new area within the country.
Overall, the welfare checklist provides a framework for professionals to make decisions that prioritise the child’s best interests. It is designed to be a flexible tool, allowing the court to consider all relevant circumstances in each case.
WHAT OTHER HELP IS THERE?
The following resources may be useful to you:
Have you considered Family Mediation ?
Find out how we can help you resolve your parenting issues amicably, cost effectively and fairly.
Call us today 0330 999 0959