Welfare reports in child change of name cases

In some cases (when there’s an application under the Children Act ↗), the judge may order a welfare report (or “section 7 ↗ report”).  The welfare report will be carried out for the court by a specialist social worker — who can be —

  • a Cafcass officer
  • a Welsh Family Proceedings Officer
  • an officer of the local authority
  • someone appointed by the local authority

The social worker will normally see the children and adults involved before making their report, which usually takes 12–16 weeks (depending on where the children live).

In some complex cases — if the court thinks it’ll be in the child’s best interests — the court can appoint a “Children’s Guardian” (under rule 16.4 ↗ of the Family Procedure Rules), which means that the child will also become a party to the case and will have an independent voice in the court.

The court can order a welfare report at any stage in the proceedings, although they’ll normally do it in the preliminary stages.  Although a welfare reports is a useful thing for the court to have, it also has to bear in mind that —

  • a welfare report is needed more in some cases than others
  • welfare officers’ time is a valuable but limited resource, and should be spent on cases where it’s most needed
  • a welfare report takes time to prepare, and the court has a statutory duty (under subsection 1(2)) to reduce delay as much as it can

Whether or not to order the report is a matter of the court’s discretion ↗, and an appeal cannot be brought merely on the fact that a welfare report wasn’t ordered.  (See: Re W (Welfare Reports) [1995] 2 FLR 142.)  However, an appeal may be brought on the grounds that it wasn’t considered whether a change of name was in the best interests of the child’s welfare (applying the test as laid down in Dawson v Wearmouth), and the fact that a welfare report wasn’t ordered could be a part of that justification — as was held in Re W (Children) [2013] EWCA Civ 735.

The cases of Dawson v Wearmouth [1999] UKHL 18 and AB v BB and Ors [2013] EWHC 227 (Fam) also support the need for a welfare report in the matter of a change of a child’s name.