The Local Authority can bring care proceedings against parents or carers if they are worried about potential emotional or physical harm a child. This is a court process and the Judge will decide at the end of the case where the child/children should live based on the evidence produced throughout proceedings.
Typical Court Timeline:
Care proceedings are initiated if the local authority (social services) is concerned about a child’s welfare, and there are no other options but to bring the matter to Court. There is a legal threshold to reach before proceeding’s can commence under Section 31 of the Children Act 1989. The legal test is if social services believe that the child is suffering significant harm, or is at risk of suffering significant harm. Concerns may include:
- A child has been injured and it is considered not to have been accidental (Non-Accidental Injury)
- A child is exposed to drug and/or alcohol misuse
- Exposure to domestic violence
- Emotional, physical or sexual harm
- Referrals from schools or third parties
- If the child is a harm to themselves, i.e. self-harming to the extent the Court must interfere with their Human Rights to protect them.
- Any other issues that they consider significant that have led to the suffering of significant harm, or the child being at risk of suffering significant harm
The court must decide whether the child can remain in the care of the parent/parent/s or care giver or whether the risks mean that the child must be removed from their care during proceedings.
- What Orders can the Local Authority ask for?
Interim Supervision Order allows the Local Authority to “befriend and assist” the family by offering support and services to ensure the safety of a child/children.
Interim Care Orders provides the Local Authority with overriding parental responsibility, allowing them to place the child or children in foster care or other family approved placements.
- Are there urgent orders?
If the Local Authority cannot wait for an interim order or the situation is such that decisions must be made instantly, there are other, more urgent orders that can be requested:
Emergency Protection Order is a hearing dealt with urgently and allows a temporary order to be in place for the local authority to obtain overriding parental responsibility whilst a longer hearing can be listed at another time. These Orders expire within 8 days before it then needs to be extended unless a hearing to deal with interim orders can be listed.
Police Protection Orders allow the police to exercise their police powers to remove the child and place them in a safe placement. This can last a maximum of 72 hours.
- Who is involved in the Court process?
The Local Authority is the Applicant and will bring proceedings to the court.
The Respondents will include those who have parental responsibility for a child, including a mother, father or other carer.
Those who don’t have parental responsibility, for example, father’s who are not named on the birth certificate
Others who may have an interest in the case, for example grandparents who wish to care for the child.
The children by way of the Guardian. A Guardian is a court appointed independent social worker who acts in the best interests of the child.
If the child is old enough, they can be a party in their own right and have their own solicitor. This depends on a range of factors.
- What will happen during the process?
Each case is different and will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Our solicitors will support and advise you throughout each step of the process
- What are the potential long-term orders?
No Orders – If the Court and professionals are pleased with the progress made by families and it is not considered necessary to retain involvement, they could conclude the case with no orders.
Care Orders – The Local Authority will retain or obtain parental responsibility for the duration of the child’s minority, (up to the age of 18). They will remain in foster care, or sometimes with family placements under this order.
Supervision Order – The Local Authority will remain involved with the family to support and provide services and otherwise supervise the family to ensure that the children are safe whilst the child remains at home.
Special Guardianship Orders – allow a relative or other individuals being assessed to have parental responsibility for the child.
Placement Orders (Adoption) – If there are no positive assessments of the parents, family members or other individuals that have been assessed, the Court has a duty to explore all options to include adoption. If “nothing else will do”, the Court can make Placement Orders to allow the child to be adopted. This is only considered as a very last resort and for those children of an age considered suitable for adoption.
- How long will proceedings last?
By law, care proceedings should last 26 weeks (6 months) but this statutory timescale can be extended if the court does not have all the information it needs to conclude a case.
If you are a parent or carer who has been approached by a social worker in relation to childcare proceedings, you should contact a specialist solicitor at Daniel Woodman urgently. To get in touch with a solicitor today click here
To meet our specialist child care team… click here