When you are told that the Social Services are making a court application you will receive a copy of all of the court papers. It is vital, if this happens, that you appoint an experienced family solicitor as soon as possible. Here at Lockings our team of family solicitors are experts in helping families involved in care proceedings. They can help you understand the paperwork you have received and plan your case for court. You will be allocated a dedicated solicitor who will be your family solicitor throughout your case.
Before the court can make an interim care order it must be satisfied that the risk to your child passes a legal test called the ‘threshold’. Your solicitor can help you prepare your court statement and challenge the decisions being made by Social Services at the beginning of your case.
As a parent involved in care proceedings, you are automatically entitled to legal aid, whatever your financial circumstances. Usually, both parents will have their own solicitor. Also, your child will be represented in court by another solicitor and a Guardian, who is an independent Officer from CAFCASS (the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service). The Guardian will ensure that the judge knows your child’s own views if they are old enough.
Before care proceedings can be initiated, you will be invited to a PLO (Public Law Outline) meeting, this will be your final chance to work with the local authority in preventing
At the first court hearing, the judge will decide whether to make an interim care order. If an order is made, the judge will then have to think about where your child should live until the court case has finished. This could be at home with you, with another member of your family, or in foster care.
The next step is the Case Management Hearing, which will decide on the key issues and also put together a timetable for your child’s case. All care proceedings are supposed to be finished within 26 weeks so that a final decision for your child can be made within that time. The judge will ask for various assessments and pieces of work to be done with you and your family so that at the end of the case the judge has all of the information they need to make long term decisions for your children.
As your care proceedings progress, your family solicitor will discuss all important issues with you to make sure you understand what is happening and why. If your solicitor feels that decisions need to be challenged during the process, they will discuss that with you and take action. Your family solicitor will also make sure that all of the assessments that are being done are appropriate and in your best interests.
The types of assessments the court might expect to see are:
- Parenting assessments of both parents to the child to see if they can safely care for the child. This could be assessments of you together, if you are still a couple, or separately if you are not;
- Assessments of family members or close friends who may be able to care for your child if the judge decides that they cannot come home;
- Medical assessments, if there are issues such as unexplained injuries to a child;
- Adult psychology or psychiatric assessments if there are issues of poor emotional health;
- Drug and/or alcohol testing if there are issues of alleged substance misuse which are causing problems in parenting your child.
Once all of the assessments are done, the Social Worker will put together a final care plan for your child, which will be a recommendation for where the child should live in the long term. This could be a return home to your care, a placement with a family member or a friend, or, in the most serious of cases, it could be a plan for adoption.
Your family solicitor will help you understand the Local Authority’s plans for your child and prepare your court statement. Your solicitor will also consider the final recommendations of the Guardian and discuss those with you.
If you are a family member who has had an assessment to care for a child, and you do not agree with the outcome of your assessment, our experienced family solicitors can give you advice about challenging that assessment.
The next stage of the court case is a court appointment called an Issues Resolution Hearing. At this hearing, if all parties are in agreement, the court case for your child can finish. However, if there is disagreement then the court will have another court hearing, called a Final Hearing, at which the judge will make final decisions for your child.
There are several outcomes which can arise from care proceedings. These include:
- Supervision Order – the child remains living at home or is placed elsewhere and the local authority is granted the power to monitor the child’s need on an ongoing basis;
- Care Order – the child becomes a ‘looked-after’ child and the local authority gain parental responsibility until the age of 18;
- Placement Order – the local authority is granted permission to place the child up for adoption;
- Special Guardianship Order (link to new special guardianship page) – the child is placed with someone else on a permanent basis.
Here at Lockings Solicitors, our team of family solicitors all have extensive experience of dealing with care proceedings. Several of our family solicitors are members of the Law Society Children’s Panel, which means that they have the qualifications and experience to act for children in care proceedings, in addition to parents and other family members.
For confidential and friendly advice, contact our family law solicitors in Hull and Beverley for a free initial chat on 01482 977 925 today or send an e-mail enquiry and we will contact you for a discussion as soon as possible.