Care proceedings can be confusing and stressful, particularly if you disagree with the decisions made by the authorities. At QualitySolicitors, we offer guidance throughout the process, explaining what is happening at every step. Our experienced care proceedings solicitors can accompany you to meetings and represent you in court.
What happens in child care proceedings?
If social services are starting care proceedings for your child, it is important to get legal advice immediately, especially as these cases qualify for Legal Aid.
Here is an outline of the process:
First court hearing
You will receive a date for the first court hearing. This is normally a few days after social services have told you they are starting proceedings.
If the Judge believes your child is at risk of significant harm, they can issue an Emergency Protection Order (EMO) or an Interim Care Order (ICO). These orders mean your child will be placed in foster care or with a family member. Emergency Protection Orders only last for 8 days, whereas Interim Care Orders can last for 8 weeks, although both can be extended.
During the first court hearing, the Judge may advise you on what changes you need to make in your life to persuade them that you can care for your child. You may be asked to attend parenting classes, make changes in your relationships or make healthier lifestyle choices.
Final court hearing
The final court hearing is when the Judge decides on long-term arrangements for your child.
Before the final court hearing, social services will carry out assessments of your family and your child so that they can advise the Judge. Social services will also look closely at the changes you are making to improve life for your child.
These are some possible outcomes at the end of a final court hearing.
A Judge rules that a child remains living with their parents or guardians.
A Supervision Order is a court order instructing social services to supervise a family. A social worker is allocated to offer advice and support to parents to make sure the child is well cared for.
A social worker is responsible for a child for the duration of the order. They can apply to extend the order or discharge the order if they feel it is no longer needed.
A Care Order gives the local authority social services legal responsibility for a child. Although parents retain parental responsibility, social services can limit their powers in the child's interests.
A Care Order means social services can place a child in foster care or with a relative. They can also make decisions about any aspect of a child’s upbringing.
Special Guardianship Order
The main difference between a Special Guardianship Order (SGO) and a Care Order is that parents do not have parental responsibility for their child with an SGO.
A child is placed in the care of a special guardian until they are 18 years old. Extended family members and foster carers are often appointed as special guardians.
If a child is at significant risk of harm and no relatives can care for them, social services may place them with prospective adoptive parents. A Placement Order is an interim order put in place until an Adoption Order is granted.
Until an Adoption Order is issued, the prospective adoptive parents share parental responsibility for the child with local authority social services.
Why use a solicitor for childcare proceedings?
An experienced care proceedings solicitor can prepare the strongest possible case for you in court. Usually, the decisions made by social services are best, but we know this is not always the case. Our care proceedings solicitors will listen carefully to you and clearly present your point of view to the court.
All those with parental responsibility, no matter what their financial circumstances, are entitled to Legal Aid for childcare proceedings. The law surrounding care proceedings is complex, so it is wise to seek legal representation.
Do you need a Consent Order?
When parents divorce or separate, they need to agree on arrangements for their children. Arrangements include where the child will live, how much time they will spend with each parent and other practical decisions.
These informal arrangements can be turned into a legally binding agreement by having a Consent Order drawn up. This means if arrangements are breached by one party, they are enforceable by the Family Court.
Whether a Consent Order is necessary depends on individual circumstances. A Consent Order provides legal protection, especially if those with parental responsibility are likely to disagree about what is best for their child in future.
How do you apply for a Child Arrangements Order?
When parents cannot agree on arrangements for their child, they can apply to the court for a Child Arrangements Order.
There are several stages to the process of applying for a Child Arrangements Order, so it is advisable to seek the guidance of a care proceedings solicitor who can support you throughout.
Like a Consent Order, a Child Arrangements Order sets out where a child lives, how much time they spend with each parent and how contact will take place (video call, phone etc.)
Before an application can be made to the court for a Child Arrangements Order, parents have to prove they have tried to reach an agreement themselves by attending a Mediation Information Assessment Meeting (MIAAM).
An application is made to the court if an agreement is not reached through mediation. Matters are usually settled at this stage. If matters are not settled, the Judge might order CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) to conduct an assessment and write a report to help them decide at a final court hearing.
How QualitySolicitors can help you?
Our care proceedings solicitors have a strong reputation for helping families facing care proceedings. We understand how stressful the situation is for everybody involved, so we provide advice in a sensitive, calm and straightforward way.
If you are worried about care proceedings, please do not hesitate to get in touch. We will be by your side at every stage, ensuring that your rights and your child's rights are robustly protected.
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