The Court Children

14 September 2023

Article 4 of the Children (NI) Order 1995 allows for the Family Courts in Northern Ireland to arrange for a ‘suitably qualified person to report to the Court on such matters relating to the welfare of a child’.   This suitably qualified person is known as the Court Children’s Officer and they can play a significant part in promoting a just and compassionate and child-centred approach to legal proceedings involving children. 

What is the role of a Court Children’s Officer?

A Court Children’s Officer (CCO) is a specialised Social Worker whose role within the Family Court system is to advise and assist Judges in making decisions about the care, custody and contact arrangements for children when parents have been unable to agree arrangements themselves.   A Court Children’s Officer will advise the Court on matters that impact upon a child and make recommendations as to what may be in a child’s best interests.

What will a Court Children’s Officer do in family proceedings?

A request for the involvement of a Court Children’s Officer can be made by any party to the proceedings, however the Court must consider their involvement to be appropriate and necessary. They are appointed by the Court to report on the family circumstances and if deemed appropriate to do so, to obtain the wishes and feelings of the child.

A Court Children’s Officer is required to be neutral in family proceedings - that is, not to take sides with either parent. 

For the purposes of preparing their report, a Court Children’s Officer will usually meet with both parents separately and listen to their respective views, worries or concerns about issues relating to their child’s contact and custody arrangements.  They can also liaise with the child’s GP and school if they feel it is necessary to do so and link in with Social Services to ascertain if there has been any previous Social Services involvement with the family.  Sometimes the Court Children’s Officer may wish to observe contact between a parent and child to further information their recommendations.

A Court Children’s Officer may also be required to ascertain a child’s wishes and feelings, if considered age appropriate to do so and to present to the Court the views of the child on issues relating to residence or contact. This can help empower a child, making them feel more involved and informed about the proceedings. The information gathered from these conversations informs the Court Children’s Officer’s assessment and report, aiding the Court in making decisions that align with the child's best interests and overall well-being.

A Court Children’s Officer’s report may be made orally or in writing, as the Judge directs.  The Judge may take the recommendations in the report into account when deciding on matters of custody and contact. Each parent will be made fully aware of all recommendations arising out of a Court Children’s Officer’s report and will have an opportunity to challenge these if they do not agree with them.

Through their report and recommendations, a Court Children’s Officer plays a crucial role in providing the Court with a comprehensive understanding of the child's situation, which can assist Judges in making informed decisions that consider the child's welfare above all else. 

If you require advice and assistance regarding any family law matter, please contact our offices for a free, no obligation discussion on or call 028 9024 3901