The social services department in your Local Authority (Council) is responsible for making sure that children are safe and appropriately cared for by their parents or the person looking after them.
If social services believe, from information received, that a child may be suffering serious harm or is likely to suffer serious harm, then they can apply to the court for a Care Order.
Before a court application is made however a meeting called a “Child Protection Case Conference” will be held, to which you will be invited, to see if your child could properly be protected without a Care Order being made. All the professionals, organisations and agencies involved with your child, such as doctors, health visitors, school, teachers etc will be invited to attend the meeting.
Social services should only apply to the court for a Care Order if they think it is the best way to ensure that your child can be properly protected. Social services cannot take any action with which you do not agree without first obtaining the court’s permission.
If social services have become involved or want to become involved with caring for or protecting your child, you should seek independent legal advice at the earliest opportunity.
It is imperative that you obtain legal advice at the very outset of any proposed proceedings from a family lawyer who has experience in dealing with these sorts of cases known as public childcare proceedings.
The court will not make a final decision on the Local Authority’s application for a Care Order at the first hearing. At this hearing, which must take place within six days of the Local Authority’s application, the court must:
It is very important that you attend this hearing as it sets the stage for how the case will progress until the final hearing.
The court can make several types of Interim Order.
The court appoints an independent person called a Guardian to give information and an opinion about what is best for your child.
This person is from CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service). The Guardian does not work for the Social Services Department, but a completely independent government body. Their job is to find out what social services have done to help you with regards childcare and why they are worried about your child. The Guardian will talk to your child about the situation if he/she is old enough, to ascertain what he/she would like to happen. The Guardian will also read social services files on the case and they will want to see you and any other family member to find out what has happened to warrant social services intervention.
The Guardian must prepare a written report for the court. It is important that you discuss the content of the Guardian’s report with your Solicitor and receive specialist advice upon its content.
The court will normally follow the recommendations in the Guardian’s report. If the court does not follow the Guardian’s recommendations, it should explain why.
There will be a series of Interim Hearings where the court will continue to look at where your child will live, who he/she will see and how the case will proceed.
The court will hold a meeting called a “Case Management Conference” this is the main meeting to decide what evidence it will need for the final hearing.
It is very important that you work closely with your Solicitor and other professionals involved throughout the proceedings, it is also particularly important that you attend all the court hearings.
The court can make a Care or Supervision Order only if it believes that the “Threshold Criteria” (ie a list of reasons why the Local Authority says an Order is required to safeguard the child) has been reached. If the court finds that the Threshold Criteria has been met then it will decide what order to make after considering:
This means that you remain responsible for your child’s care but social services have the power to “supervise” how you care for your child.
A Supervision Order lasts for up to one year unless the Local Authority asks the court for an extension.
If a Supervision Order is made then the Local Authority will agree a “Contract” or supervision plan with you, this will set out what is expected of you, and the services the Local Authority will provide.
This is an order that places your child in the care of the Local Authority and provides for the Local Authority to share parental responsibility with those persons who already have it.
The court must decide how and when you and other family members such as brothers and sisters will see your child if he or she is not returning to live with you. If you disagree with what is decided and you want the arrangements changed, you can apply for a Contact Order.
Once a Care Order is made the Local Authority will decide where your child will live. It is possible for a child to remain living in the family unit whilst subject to a Care Order however it is more usual for the child’s residence with the immediate family to end upon the making of a care order if it has not done so already for example through placement in voluntary foster care albeit on a temporary basis.
Local Authority Childcare work is a specialised area of Family Law and is a service which is not provided by all Family lawyers. At Gaynham King & Mellor however our family solicitors are able to offer both parents and children (through the Children’s Guardian) specialist advice and representation in this extremely sensitive and demanding area of law.
For more advice and assistance regarding Local Authority childcare intervention or concerns regarding the involvement with the children’s department of social services with your family please contact us.