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Pilot Child Arrangements Programme: Where are we now?


On 21 February 2022, a new approach to children applications was adopted in two areas in the country, including Dorset, and is due to run for two years initially.

Who is affected by the Child Arrangements Programme?

Parents applying for the following will automatically be subject to the new procedure:

  • child arrangements;
  • enforcement of existing child arrangements orders;
  • specific issue decisions relating to children (e.g. schooling and change of name); and
  • orders to prohibit one parent from taking certain steps or action (e.g. taking a child out of the country).

Why is the Pilot Child Arrangements Programme needed?

There is currently a substantial burden on the court system, partially stemming from lengthy litigation and also families returning to court because the arrangements previously ordered are no longer functioning.

This is clearly not in the best interests of the children, which is the court’s primary focus in these applications. Neither are the underlying issues that lead to applications always best resolved in court and it has been proposed that a focus on signposting families to other organisations for support could reduce the involvement of the court in these types of cases.

The pilot focuses on early intervention with families and ongoing support, with a view to reducing unnecessary hearings or future proceedings. This is to be largely achieved by heavily involving CAFCASS (the body that assists the court in assessing the children’s needs, wishes and feelings within proceedings) at an early stage, with an aim to resolving any underlying issues that may be present and which require non-court based support, such as substance abuse or domestic violence.


The current procedure, still applicable nationally, involves immediately scheduling a hearing, with a short and basic safeguarding check being undertaken by CAFCASS. In Dorset, this has been replaced with a 3-stage approach:

Stage 1 –Initial information gathering and assessment

This will include:

  • Initial gatekeeping by the court to assess the issues in the application.
  • A Child Impact Report, if necessary, where CAFCASS or the Local Authority will produce a report on all aspects of the potential impact on the child of any order, including involving the children from an earlier stage where appropriate, and make recommendations to the court.
  • Triage by the court, where they will consider the Child Impact Report and what is needed next depending on the unique circumstances of the family. This can involve a more holistic approach, including mediation, a parenting course, domestic violence risk assessments, re-establishing communication with children by letters or other means and support groups. A further updating report may also then be necessary, to assess whether the out of court measures adopted by the families are succeeding.

The work at 2 and 3 above would usually follow the first hearing under the current procedure, if at all, reducing the need for parents to incur the cost of attending a hearing simply to deal with case management.

Stage 2 – Intervention and/ or a decision hearing

Where the court, having reviewed the information gathered at stage 1, believes its input is necessary on particular issues, it will schedule a hearing. Such issues might include allegations of Domestic Violence. Only one hearing may be necessary (as opposed to the often several hearings under the existing procedure), depending on the issues in the case and the recommendations of CAFCASS.

Stage 3 – Review (if needed)

This is to ensure that parties are not simply left to deal with the consequences of any order without further support. The court can identify where there may be a risk of further or repeat applications and include a review to help families if the arrangements ordered are not working for them in the future or even break down completely, to avoid further applications.

What we have learned since the Pilot began

Unlike the current procedure, the court is corresponding directly with parents, leaving solicitors out of the process as much as possible. As a firm, we support providing parents with more autonomy in the arrangements for their children, as well as reducing their legal fees which can sometimes be unnecessarily incurred in the early stages of case management under the existing procedure.

Procedural change or steps taken to minimise conflict and help families find a resolution that works for them is positive, albeit there is no ‘one size fits all’ outcome and it is recognised that in some cases litigation is inevitable owing to the circumstances and unfortunate conflict that is built into the fabric of the family’s circumstances in question.

The initial gatekeeping stage appears to be the most efficient and is working well at present, but Child Impact Reports, for example, are running behind more often than not, leading to some frustration centered around efficiency and delay which is an age-old issue unfortunately which appears to still present itself under the Pilot.

The role of CAFCASS has of course been intensified under the new procedure and so this is unsurprising given the strain that has been placed on CAFCASS historically in working with families and delivering its resources. The position is exacerbated owing to the ongoing hangover from the impact on the court system of COVID-19. It is hoped this will settle in time, particularly if the Pilot succeeds in reducing hearings and applications.

An observation from the Steele Raymond Family Team is that, in less complex or conflicted matters, it appears that efficiency has improved under the Pilot in comparison to pre-Pilot procedure. In one case example, resolution was achieved quickly and without the need for a Child Impact Report or Triage by the court. The matter progressed straight from the initial gatekeeping to a decision hearing, with the parties only each needing to file a single statement in between.

What is the future for child arrangements?

The Pilot is intended to continue until February 2023. The procedure is constantly being reviewed and local solicitors involved have been asked to feed back their experiences to influence the course of the Pilot. It is therefore likely to continue to evolve and we are looking forward to our continued participation in the process, having an influence over the conduct of future children proceedings and monitoring how the procedure develops to be able to provide the most relevant and up to the minute advice to their clients.


For further information on the changes covered in this article, or to discuss your specific child arrangements, please contact Amy Baugh directly on 01202 294566 or by completing the form below.

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