Local Authority Child Care Proceedings

If the Local Authority has reason to be concerned that a child is at risk as a result of the care they are being given, they have a duty to intervene and start Child Care Proceedings. This could be for a variety of reasons, with some of the most common cases that lead to Care Proceedings being:

  • A Child Protection Case Conference is where following an investigation the Local Authority are unable to manage any risk under a Child Protection Plan.
  • A failure on the part of the parents to adhere to a Child Protection Plan developed in a Child Protection Case Conference. Alternatively a Public Law Outline Meeting will have considered that plans are not working. In this case an application is made to the Family Court and the parents are notified of the date.
  • A Police Protection Order in which the child is removed from the parents' care by the police. They can hold the child for up to 72 hours.
  • An Emergency Protection Order is obtained from the Court. Parents are sometimes notified, but sometimes this is obtained without parents being present at Court. This usually lasts for eight days while further investigations are carried out.
  • A voluntary agreement between parents and Social Services which allows Social Services to place a child with alternative carers. This is known as Section 20.

It is important that you take legal advice should Care Proceedings be started for your child. This is to ensure you fully understand the situation and its consequences, as well as to ensure your child's best interests are the priority throughout. Our expert team of family law solicitors can guide you through the process and make sure you follow the Proceedings correctly.

Pre-proceedings

Children Services will write reports to be filed with the Court outlining what they think the most suitable outcome for your child is, including their recommendations for long-term care provisions.

This conclusion will be reached by talking to parents and child and thoroughly investigating the situation, as well as taking the wishes and feelings of your child into account. At this point, they may also speak to other family members or friends with regard looking after the child should they not be able to safely remain at home.

Initial Court hearing

This will take place six days after the application for Child Care Proceedings has been made by the Local Authority. Usually, the Court will not make a final decision at this first hearing. Rather, the purpose is to:

  • Decide if an Interim Care Order needs to be made. This is a temporary court order that takes your child into care for up to eight weeks. Where a child is placed depends on the individual details of the case but they are usually placed with other family members or foster carers.
  • Appoint a Guardian and solicitor to represent your child throughout the proceedings.
  • Decide how the case should be prepared, including assessments, reports, statements and research into whether there is anyone who could become the child's carer. The Court will also direct parents to file evidence ahead of the next hearing.

Case Management Hearing

The Case Management Hearing should take place within 12 days of the application for Care Proceedings. It is at this point that the Court will ensure everything (assessments, statements, reports, evidence etc.) is prepared. They can also consider what further evidence may be needed and resolve any areas of disagreement. A CAFCASS officer will file an Analysis and Recommendations Report setting out their enquiries and conclusions.

Parents must have made a formal application for supporting expert evidence or fresh assessments of themselves or anyone in their family by this date. It is crucial to have spoken to us and any family members who may want to care for your child as soon as possible so they can be considered by this day. After this point they will usually not be considered.

Issues Resolution Hearing

At this hearing, the Court will see if an agreement can be reached between Local Authority and parents as to the long term future of your child (e.g. where they should live, what the contact arrangements should be etc.) If an agreement can be reached, proceedings will conclude at this point and the appropriate court order made.

Should the case continue to a Final Hearing, the Issues Resolution Hearing will ensure all evidence is in place and decide if further information is necessary.

Final Hearing

If the case continues to a Final Hearing, this is where decisions are made with regards to where your child will live and which court order should be made. It should take place within 26 weeks of the Proceedings being issued, and you will usually be directed by the Court to prepare a written statement. We can help with this, as well as providing any further assistance.

Care Orders

There are a variety of possible court orders that can be made at the Final Hearing. These include:

  • Care Order - your child stays in care or other placement until they are 18, unless the Order ends before then.
  • Supervision Order - your child will remain in your care, which will be supervised by Children Services, usually for 12 months unless extended after that period.
  • Child Arrangements Order- your child will live with another person such as a family member or friend for the duration of the Order.
  • Special Guardianship Order - your child will live with another person such as a family member or friend on a more permanent basis.
  • Placement Order - this gives Children Services permission to place your child for adoption, even without your agreement.

How we can help

Our expert family law solicitors have the legal experience needed to guide you through Child Care Proceedings and ensure that the best interests of your child are always at the heart of the matter.

We offer both a tailored service and a fixed fee service to suit your needs. Call us today on 0800 689 1058 or use our online enquiry form.

Public funding and legal aid for care proceedings

Forbes Solicitors regularly represent parents, adults and children who are involved in Care Proceedings, giving highly objective and professional guidance throughout what can be a distressing and stressful process.

Local authorities must inform parents and other adults who have Parental Responsibility about their concerns for the child, providing that the child's short-term safety allows this to happen. Anyone who has received a letter about this may be entitled to public funding (legal aid), entitling you to have a legal representative with you to both advise and assist.

What can the court do?

Courts can only make Interim Care Orders or Interim Supervision Orders if:

  1. They think there are reasonable grounds for believing that the child is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm, and the harm or likelihood of harm is attributable to the care the child is receiving, or
  2. The child is "beyond parental control"

The local authority only has to establish "reasonable grounds" and "likelihood of harm" to obtain an interim care order, which is also referred to as a holding position pending the outcome of further investigation.

The court can also make other orders while the local authority carries out assessments, including:

  • Interim Supervision Order
  • Child Arrangements Order

What is a Care Order?

A Care Order ensures the local authority shares Parental Responsibility with someone else who has Parental Responsibility for the child. Care Orders also allow local authorities to remove children from their current carers.

Local authorities must consider all other family members when a child is placed with foster carers. They also have a responsibility to rehabilitate children and look for a solution to get them back to their parents, wherever this situation is possible. When a child is the subject of a Care Order, the local authority must arrange contact with the child's parents or carers maintain relationships with other key people in the child's life as long as it is safe to do so.

What is a Supervision Order?

A Supervision Order places a child under the supervision of a local authority and puts the appointed supervisor under a duty to:

  • Advise, assist and befriend the child
  • Take reasonable steps to give effect to the order
  • Consider whether to apply to the court to change or end the order, if the supervisor believes it is no longer necessary or if it is not being fully complied

If care proceedings are issued, we help parents access support services and agencies, so that they can get the best result for the child.

What financial assistance can I get?

Public funding (legal aid) is automatically available to parents and children involved in care proceedings. Public funding may be available to other family members subject to financial eligibility.

Following completion of a Children and Families Assessment financial assistance in kind, or in exceptional circumstances, cash can be provided to a child, parent or carer under section 17(6) and section 18 Children Act 1989 to address identified needs to safeguard and promote a child's welfare where there is no other legitimate source of financial assistance.

S17(6) Children Act 1989: The services provided by a local authority in the exercise of functions conferred on them by Section 17 may include providing accommodation and giving assistance in kind or, in exceptional circumstances, in cash.

S18 Children Act 1989: Every local authority shall provide such day care for children in need within their area who are (a) aged five or under; and (b) not yet attending schools, as is appropriate.

S18(5) Children Act 1989: Every local authority shall provide for children in need within their area who are attending any school such care or supervised activities as is appropriate (a)outside school hours; or (b)during school holidays.

At Forbes, our Family, Divorce and Children Law Solicitors are here to help you in any way that we can. Whether you simply require some straightforward legal advice, a letter sending or, if necessary, Court Proceedings can be issued.

We offer our private paying clients the option of our tailored service or for more straightforward cases a fixed fee service. We also offer advice on some areas for those who qualify for Legal Aid.

Call the Family Law Solicitors at Forbes on freephone 0800 689 1058. You can also contact our Solicitors online or call our offices in Blackburn, Chorley or Preston.

Child Care Proceedings/Public Law Proceedings

What are Child Care Proceedings?

The Local Authority has a duty to intervene and start Child Care Proceedings if there are concerns that a child is at risk as a result of the care that they are being given.

What is the role of Children's Services in Child Care Proceedings?

In some cases Social Workers are only involved for a short period of time but from the moment a Social Worker is involved, families are monitored and everything can be taken into account at a later date. Sometimes families do not fully understand this and so things happen that they later regret which lead to problems down the line.

What is a Child Protection Case Conference?

Children's Services may convene a Child Protection Case Conference to take place which will allow Children's Services to see if a child could be properly protected without a Care Order being made. If concerns excalate or are serious, Children's Services will start Pre-proceedings process. All parents can be represented in this process and get legal aid.

How Forbes can help with care proceedings

At Forbes we have a large experienced team of solicitors who have years of experience of dealing with families who are involved with Local Authorities and Children's Services.

It is important to take legal advice if you are struggling to manage your relationship with Children's Services or the Local Authority. They have the authority to apply to the Court for powers to make decisions to overrule you as a parent or carer for a child. They can only do this if there are grounds that the child is suffering harm or at risk of harm. If this is established, the Court must decide what order is appropriate and what the most suitable care arrangements are.

What if Children's Services think my child is in imminent danger?

If Children's Services suspect your child is in immediate danger they can take a number of steps to protect your child, including applying for an Emergency Protection Order which will remove the child from your care for up to eight days whilst further investigations are undertaken.

What will happen if Children's services start Child Care Proceedings?

If Children's Services are starting Child Care Proceedings then you must contact us immediately. This first step will involve an initial Court hearing (this usually takes place within twelve days after the Local Authority making the application).

It is important you understand what this means and the consequences for your child. We can work with you to ensure you and your child's best interests are maintained.

What happens at the initial Court hearing?

The Court will not usually make any final decisions at the first hearing. The Court will do one of the following;

  • Decide whether to make an Interim Care Order (an Order that will say where the child shall live and who will look after them until the final hearing)
  • Decide whether the case should be transferred to another Court
  • Decide how the case should be prepared for the final hearing

What happens after an Interim Order is made?

Further hearings will monitor the child's living arrangements, who the child will see and how the case will proceed. The Court's focus is the welfare of the child(ren) and this is the courts paramount consideration. A case can take up to a maximum of 26 weeks before the case is ready for the Final Hearing. Some cases take longer than this depending on the circumstances of the case.

At Forbes Solicitors we can help any family member whether you are a parent, grandparent or other family member or friend. Legal Aid is available for all parents and other family members in some cases.

Often disputes arise within families regarding where children should live, for example upon parents separating, or whether the children should have contact with the parent that they don't live with.

There may be different issues other than where the children live and with whom they spend time, such as Parental Responsibility, removal from the country, child abduction, paternity disputes or Change of Name Deeds.

Often cases can be resolved without the need for Court Proceedings and at Forbes Solicitors we will make every effort to do so. We are always mindful of the fact that cases involving children are particularly sensitive.

Children's Services Proceedings

If Children's Services become involved with your family, it is understandable that you may feel upset, angry, and above all - worried. In situations involving your children, we appreciate that you will require professional and expert legal guidance from a sympathetic and compassionate solicitor. Forbes Solicitors will be able to advise and guide you through every step of the process, ensuring that you understand every decision made in situations involving Children's Services.

Why have Children's Services become involved with my family?

Your Local Authority has a Children's Services Department who is responsible for ensuring that all parents provide sufficient care, safety and support for their children. If Children's Services receive information from a third party voicing concerns about a child's welfare, they have a duty to take action to protect your children if they believe they may be at risk of suffering harm. If they want to take any action that you do not agree with, they must first receive the Court's permission to do so.

How do Children's Services define 'harm'?

Children's Services define harm in four categories; emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse or neglect.

  • Emotional abuse is when a child is being emotionally mistreated or traumatised at home, resulting in a negative effect on their life. There are numerous examples of emotional abuse, such as being bullied by a parent(s) or witnessing violence within the home.
  • Physical abuse is when a child is being physically assaulted or attacked by their parent(s), or somebody linked to the parent(s). If a child is being physically abused by somebody else and the parent(s) is aware but not protecting the child or preventing this from happening, this is also considered to be physical abuse.
  • Sexual abuse is when someone is engaging in sexual activity with a child, be that the parent(s) or somebody else. Similarly to physical abuse, if a child is being sexually abused by somebody else and the parent(s) is aware but not protecting the child or preventing this from happening, this is also considered to be sexual abuse.
  • Neglect is when a child is not having basic, fundamental needs met at home, such as being fed, provided with clean clothes or going to school.

What is an Initial Assessment?

If Children's Services believe your child to be at risk of one or more type of harm, they will then need to complete a series of assessments to determine if your child is in danger or if they may be in the future. If a Children's Worker speaks to you on the phone or visits you at home, this is an 'initial assessment', to determine whether they believe that what they have been told is accurate. If they believe that what they have been told is untrue, the file is immediately closed. However, if they agree that the child is at risk, they will either offer the parent(s) help and assistance, or organise a Core Assessment.

What is a Core Assessment?

A Core Assessment is a more detailed study to determine whether or not your child is sufficiently protected and cared for, as well as your ability to be responsible for the child. The Children's Worker will speak to the parent(s), the child (and any siblings), the child's teachers, doctor and so on. They may also contact the Police to enquire about the parent(s), and any past convictions or complaints.

Following the Core Assessment, the Children's Worker will then produce a report based on their findings and make a decision on what is best for the child going forward. It may be decided that there is no risk to the child, in which case the file will be closed, or if they are concerned about the child they may decide to monitor the parent(s) and child to ensure that things improve. However, if they believe that the child is at risk of harm or suffering, the Children's Worker will then organise a Child Protection Conference and Plan.

What is a Child Protection Conference & Plan?

Children's Services will arrange a meeting to determine what needs to be done in order to protect the child. People permitted to attend the Child Protection Conference are the parents, the child (and any siblings), the child's Children's worker, doctors, teachers and the police. The person Chairing the meeting will take notes on everything that is said, and these notes will then be provided to all those who attend the meeting. The Child Protection Conference will result in one of two options; a Child Protection Plan, or legal proceedings i.e. a Court Order.

What is a Court Order?

Before making an Order, the Court has to consider the Children Act 1989. People involved in the case will include the child's Children's Worker, the child's Guardian (appointed by the Court), the child's solicitor, the parents' solicitor and other agencies such as doctors or teachers.

Following the case, if the Court decides to proceed with an Order it will be one of the following:

Supervision Order: This means that the child is able to stay with the parent(s), however Children's Services have the authority to monitor and supervise how the child is cared for. A Supervision Order can last for up to one year, unless an extension is requested.

Care Order: This means that the child is unable to stay with the parent(s), and will subsequently be taken into the care of the Local Authority who will then have parental responsibility for the child.

Emergency Protection Order: If Children's Services believes that a child is at risk of immediate danger or suffering, they can apply to the Court for an EPO. This will either remove the child from the care of the parent(s), or order that the child must stay where they are (for example, if they are in hospital).

Prohibited Steps Order: This Order is usually made in conjunction with a Care Order or Supervision Order. It will prevent the parent(s) or person thought to be a risk to the child from being near the child without consent from the Court.

Exclusion Order: This Order involves the person believed to be a risk to the child leaving the home and finding accommodation elsewhere.

Contact Order: This Order would be made by the Court either during care proceedings or if the parent(s) applied for it afterwards, and would detail the levels of contact between the parent and the child. For example, if they are able to contact them over the telephone or in person.

Interim Order: This is a temporary Order where a child is taken into care for a specific amount of time, or supervised by a Children's Worker for a specific amount of time.

If Children's Services has become involved with your family, you can speak in confidence to our team of sympathetic and compassionate solicitors who will be able to offer legal advice or even represent you in Court. You can call Forbes Solicitors on Freephone 0800 689 1058 or contact one of our expert family law solicitors using our online enquiry form to get things moving. Alternatively, you can call in to speak to someone face-to-face at one of our offices in Blackburn, Chorley or Preston.

15 Apr 2018

Family/Divorce

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