Our expert family law solicitors have the legal experience needed to guide you through child care proceedings.
SOLVING PERSONAL LEGAL MATTERS
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, including:
It is important that you seek legal advice if Care Proceedings start for your child. This is to ensure you fully understand the situation and its consequences, ensuring your child's best interests are the priority throughout. We can guide you through the process and make sure you follow the Proceedings correctly.
Children Services will write reports and assessments 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 the child, thoroughly investigating the situation. At this point, they may speak to other family members or friends with regards to looking after the child should they not be able to safely remain at home.
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:
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 is prepared. They can also consider what further evidence may be needed and resolve any areas of disagreement. A Children's Guardian 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.
At this hearing, the Court will see if an agreement can be reached between the Local Authority (Children's Services) 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.
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.
There are a variety of possible court orders that can be made at the Final Hearing. These include:
Courts can only make Interim Care Orders or Interim Supervision Orders if:
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:
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, funds 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.
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.
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.
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 escalate or are serious, Children's Services will start Pre-proceedings process. All parents can be represented in this process and get legal aid.
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.
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.
The Court will not usually make any final decisions at the first hearing. The Court will do one of the following;
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.
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.
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.
A Child and Family 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 Child and Family 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.
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.
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.
Child Arrangements 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.