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Child Care Law

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When the Local Authority/Social Services become concerned that a child may be at risk of harm they can issue Care Proceedings.

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What are Care Proceedings?

This is the phrase used to describe the legal process by which the Local Authority asks the court to allow it to take a young person into care.

If you're not sure if we can cover your case, please don't hesitate to get in touch with us and we can discuss your specific needs.

Some of our frequently asked questions can be found below:

I have to go to court. Why?

Social Workers are telling the Court that they are worried about your child.

Before the Court will make an Order the Social Workers have to prove on the balance of probabilities that your child has suffered or is likely to suffer significant harm. This is called the Threshold Criteria. The Social Workers believe that they can prove that the harm has been caused because of something that you have done or failed to do for your child. You will have an opportunity to comment on the Social Worker’s evidence, however, if the Court accepts that there are reasonable grounds to believe that your child has suffered or is likely to suffer significant harm then the Court may make an Interim Care Order (and your child may be placed in foster care) or an Interim Supervision Order where they may remain with you or in the care of a relative.

Who will be at court?

You must come to Court and you will be represented by a Solicitor or sometimes a Barrister. The Court will appoint a Children’s Guardian. This person is an experienced Social Worker but he or she is independent of the Local Authority and has the job to advise the Court about what is in the best interests of your child. Your child also has their own Solicitor. The children’s Solicitor will not necessarily speak with your child unless they are old enough to give instructions direct. Instead, the children’s Solicitor will work with the Children’s Guardian.

What happens in court?

Some Court appointments will be important decision making hearings and others will be more administrative. Your Solicitor will explain what is going to happen at each hearing.

When there is an important Court Hearing about your child, the Judge will listen to everyone involved in the case before he or she decides what to do. The Court will receive help to make its decisions from a specialist Independent Social Worker whose role is to assess the whole situation and recommend what he or she thinks is best for your child. Sometimes this person is called a Cafcass Officer or a Children’s Guardian.

It is the Guardians job to appoint a Solicitor to represent the child, advise the Court on what work needs to be done before it can make a decision about the child’s future, check the care plan and write a report for the Court on what they think is best for the child. To do this, he or she will spend time with the child and the parents or carer, and talk to other people who know your family. He or she will also attend meetings about the child.

The Court tries to ensure final arrangements are made for children within 6 months. During this time, there will be people trying to find out why the child may be at risk and what can be done to keep them safe, which may involve working with parents or carers in some way. Parents or carers may be assessed, as may wider family members or friends in case the child is not able to return home. The Court bases its decisions on what is in the best interests of the child and is guided by the recommendations of the Guardian.

How long will it take?

The Court will decide how long the proceedings are going to take but you should expect that it will take no less than 6 months before the Court will make a final decision.

Will I see my children whilst they are in foster care?

The Social Workers must arrange contact to enable your children to see you even though they are living with foster carers. Often you will have to go to a centre at which the contact will take place. Your contact is likely to be supervised i.e. there will be somebody with you and watching you whilst you have contact with your children. The Court will decide how often contact takes place and for how long. It is very unlikely that you will be able to have contact at the weekends or on public holidays. Sometimes special arrangements can be made around important dates like your children’s birthday and at Christmas.

What is an interim care order?

This is usually the first step when Social Workers become very concerned about a child. The Local Authority may ask the Court to make an Interim Care Order while it investigates matters and considers what longer-term plans should be made for the child.

Normally, an Interim Care Order places the child in care on a temporary basis while the situation is assessed. In some cases, the child may continue to live with the parents or carers under conditions. If these conditions are not met Social Workers can intervene to remove the child without having to obtain another court order.

The Local Authority must produce a care plan for a child under an Interim Care Order. This sets out what it thinks should happen, such as where the child will live, how they are going to keep in touch with their family, where they will go to school, if there are any medical concerns or treatment, how they will pursue hobbies and pastimes, and for how long it proposes the child will be in care.

What is a final care order?

This is an Order by which the Court approves the Local Authority’s Care plan for the child, if it believes it is in the child’s best interests to do so. The plan can involve the child living at home, being placed with other members of the extended family, or living in foster care or in a children’s home. Care Orders last until the child is 18 or until the Court makes a further Order.

What is a supervision order?

A Supervision Order can be made where the Local Authority has concerns about the standard of care a child is receiving from his or her parents but is not so concerned to warrant asking the Court for a Care Order. Under a Supervision Order, the child remains with his or her parents and Social Workers have a duty to advise, befriend and assist the child. The Local Authority will produce a care plan and a Supervision Order can impose conditions on the child’s care givers, e.g. not to abuse drugs. If the conditions are not followed the Local Authority may seek to return the matter to Court to ask for a Care Order instead.

What is an emergency protection order?

A Local Authority can obtain an Emergency Protection Order at very short notice when children are at immediate risk and urgently need somewhere safe to stay for a few nights. These applications are treated very seriously by the Court, which will only make the Order if it believes the children will suffer harm if they stay where they are currently living (or if they do not stay there), or that they are suffering harm, and that social workers need access to the children urgently to protect them.

The Police also have powers to take a child into police protection for up to 72 hours where they believe that child would otherwise be likely to suffer significant harm.

Help with adoption

Many children return home when they are no longer considered to be at risk of harm. However, if, after investigations and consideration, the Local Authority considers that it would not be in the child’s best interests to return to live with his or her parents, it may seek to arrange for the child to be adopted. The first stage of this process is to apply for a placement for Adoption Order. After that, the Court will consider whether a Final Adoption Order should be made.

What is a placement for adoption order?

If the parents or guardians consent to the child being adopted this is known as placement by consent and does not involve a placement for adoption order. However, if the parents do not consent the court may agree to proceed without their consent and make a placement order if it considers placement to be in the child’s best interests.

What is an adoption order?

Once a child has been placed for adoption and matched to a suitable family, the court will then consider an adoption order. This transfers parental responsibility to the adoptive parents and undoes the legal ties with the child’s birth family. An adoption order is only made by a Court following extensive enquiries. The Court will only make the order if it is in the best interest of the child.

Sometimes children maintain some contact with members of their birth family once they are adopted. The Court will decide if and what type of contact should continue, at all times taking into consideration the child’s safety and welfare. The view of the adoptive parents will also be taken into consideration.

What must I do now?

The Court is going to be making important decisions about whether your children can return to your care. It is important that you do all that you can to show that you can look after your children well enough.

You must:

  • Attend all contact meetings with your children and attend on time.
  • Cooperate fully with all of the assessments.
  • Attend all the Court hearings, keep in touch with your Social Worker and keep in touch with your Solicitor.

This is a very difficult time for you and it may be that you need extra help from people who can offer you support. Consider going to see your GP and work with your counsellors to access services and support. Try and see this as an opportunity to get your life in order if things have not been going well for you.

You will have a number of appointments to keep. You might find it helpful to keep a diary with a record of all of your appointments and this will also give you an opportunity to keep notes of things that are happening in your life. This will help when it comes to giving evidence at any final hearing.

How can we help?

Our team can advise on all aspects of care law from the initial involvement of Social Services to court applications for care orders, supervision orders, adoption or any other related matter.

It is our job as your solicitors to tell the Court what you think of the evidence produced by the Social Workers. We will speak to the Judge on your behalf but you will have an opportunity at the important hearings to give evidence yourself. As well as the reports prepared by the Social Workers and the experts, you will also produce a statement for the Court. We will help you do this.

What can I expect to happen?

The Court is going to be making important decisions about whether your children can return to your care. It is important that you do all that you can to show that you can look after your children well enough.

You must:

  • Attend all contact with your children and attend on time.
  • Co-operate fully with all of the assessments.
  • Attend all the Court hearings, keep in touch with your Social Worker and keep in touch with your solicitor.

How much will it cost me?

If you are a parent most cases are non-means/non-merit funded meaning that you will qualify for public funding no matter how much money you earn or the strength of any case you may or may not have. This is something we can discuss at your initial appointment.

Want to speak to someone? Call our team on 0114 358 3134

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