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The 'Ascending Ladder of Contact' guidelines

The welfare of children who appear in private family law in the UK is the responsibility of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service or CAFCASS, formerly known as the Family Court Welfare Service.

The Lord Chancellor's Department decided to incorporate the functions previously provided by
the three services that advised judges, including the Guardian ad litem and the Official

Solicitor's Department, into the one new service. This change was welcomed because the Family Court Welfare Service was part of the Probation Service and many of the Officers were drawn from that department.

To facilitate dealing with the workload the Association of Family Court Welfare Officers adopted a set of guidelines called the 'Ascending Ladder of Contact' to simplify the procedure for dealing with cases involving children. Although these guidelines are from 1997 for a more recent version see the work of Dr Jenn McIntosh in Australia. However this guidance is not taken from the work of internationally acknowledged experts on children's welfare such as Professor Sir Michael Rutter but Dr John Bowlby's theory of 'Maternal Deprivation' and 'precedents' set by judges, like Lord Donaldson and now Baroness Butler-Sloss;

Patron: The Rt Hon Sir John Balcombe 
President: Her Honour Jean Graham Hall
Vice-Presidents: Dr. John Haynes, Simon Roberts, Janet Walker, Adrian James 
Birth to 18 months: Birth is a starting point simply because one has to start somewhere, but, clearly, at a young and vulnerable age great care must be taken over contact arrangements. At an early age, children have short memories and
frequent short visits are important (twice a week would be acceptable in normal circumstances). There is no reason why these visits (including some 'outings') cannot be unsupervised and they can gradually increase in length to about three hours at a time over a period. 
18 months to 3 years: Established, frequent visits can now be extended to include some meals. By the age of two years, a monthly overnight stay might be possible, encouraged and supported by each parent and carefully monitored for any distress to the child, and leading to more frequent overnight stays during the latter part of this period. Three to five years: As the child moves into the third year, overnight visits can be extended to some two night week-ends, initially once a
month. The maintenance of the frequency of contact is important to the child as is the timing of visits from now on. Children have an expectation that promises will be kept and that when contact is due to take place, it actually happens and at the time arranged. By the age of four, short (perhaps 2-3, extending to 3-4 days) holiday periods, especially at Christmas, Easter and during the summer, can be started. 
Five to eight years: By the age of five, contact should be established, but school and other developing activities will now begin to have an impact. Weekday contact (unless the parents live in close proximity) may not be so appropriate. However, week-end staying contact can now be extended to alternate week-ends
(usually from Friday evening through to Sunday evening, but not excluding the possibility of the child being taken to school on a Monday morning if suitable arrangements can be made between the parents). Holiday periods can also be extended as soon as appropriate to a week at Christmas and at Easter, half the half-term school break, and a couple of weeks during the summer. At times during which contact does not occur, letters/cards are important, and telephone calls can be useful if they can be conducted in 'private' and free from any pressure on the child. 
Nine to twelve years: Local interest, friends and peer group contact becomes increasingly important to the child. If good contact has been established over the years, then the flexibility which is required at this age should not cause undue problems. It remains important for the child and "absent" parent to maintain contact at a level which will benefit the child, and it is essential that the residential parent encourages the contact and, while listening to the child's views, not to allow those views to override what would otherwise be n the child's best interests. Staying contact over week-ends and during holiday periods remains important. 
Thirteen years plus: The child's own wishes and feelings now become much more important as their own "social life" develops, and they move towards greater independence.
Nonetheless, contact remains important but, should be seen as flexible and negotiable. Again, if good, meaningful contact has been established over the years, this should not present a major problem. At this age the child would probably respond to longer, but less frequent, periods of contact - a month during the summer holidays might be reasonable for example. Care needs to be taken over the periods leading up to school examinations, inevitably a stressful period for children who will not want any additional emotional difficulties caused by contact problems".
Alan Sealey (Chairman) January 1997

These guidelines are misconceived and ill-founded because they are based on the work of

Dr John Bowlby who believed that it was wrong to take a small child away from his or her mother whilst fathers should be obliged to play 'second fiddle'. In reality there is no reason the Family Court should treat mothers and fathers differently. 

The 'bonding' process works in exactly the same way for both parents and the 'Ascending Ladder of Contact' only serves to justify court orders that unfairly discriminate against fathers by denying them a parental relationship with their child or children during a significant period for 'bonding' in their early life.