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If Children’s Services say they are very worried that your child is not being looked after properly or is out of control; they may be thinking about whether to ask a court if your child should be taken into care.
You will get a letter, a ‘Notice of Intention to Commence Care Proceedings’ from Children’s Services legal department. You may have already got one. This letter explains why they think your child is not being looked after properly.
If you haven’t already got a solicitor you should get one now to help you. We very experienced solicitors that deal with care proceedings. The head of the team is Katherine McNally; she is a member of the Law Society Children Panel and has been representing parents and family in this situation, both before court and during the court process for more than 15 years.
Provided you have parental responsibility for the child/ren you don’t have to pay for representation, legal aid is available for you.
Who has parental responsibility?
- The child’s mother;
- The child’s father if he is or was married to the mother at any time after the child’s birth;
- Or if he is registered as the child’s father on the birth certificate if the registration took place after 1st December 2003, or who have acquired parental responsibility by formal agreement with the mother or by court order;
- Step parents who have acquired parental responsibility by formal agreement with both parents or by court order;
- Anyone else with a Child Arrangement Order or Special Guardianship Order in respect of the child;
- Anyone appointed as the child’s guardian after the death of a parent provided the appointment has taken effect.
Why do I need a solicitor?
You need a solicitor for two reasons:
- As your solicitor we will listen to what you say and help explain your point of view to the court.
- The law about when a child can be taken into care is very complicated. We can explain it to you throughout the proceedings; this is where our expertise is necessary.
Care Proceedings – in court.
We will advise, represent and support you throughout the process.
From the date of issue of the proceedings, it will usually take 26 weeks before the court come to a final decision about an order it may make, or not. During that time there may be several hearings. The judge will listen to everyone, the Local Authority, the parents and a solicitor for your child/ren. A Children’s Guardian is also appointed by the court and is an independent person who will work out what the best thing would be for your child/ren. They do not work for the local authority. Their job involves meeting your child, meeting you and other members of your family. They may also meet your child’s teacher, social worker and doctor. They then write a report for the court saying what they think would be best for your child.
Until the court makes a final decision, it will decide if your child will either:
- Stay with you
- Stay with a member of your family, or
- Be taken into care – with a foster family
This depends on whether the court thinks your child is in danger of being harmed if they stay with you in the short term. If your child is taken into care, you will normally be allowed to see them. The local authority must agree with you when you can see your child. If your child stays with you, you are responsible for making sure your child goes to all the appointments arranged for them.
The Local Authority must prove to a court that the ‘threshold criteria’ is met before a final order can be made.
The Threshold Criteria
The Local Authority has to prove to the court that the Threshold Criteria are met i.e. that the child/ren is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm because of the care they are receiving or because they are beyond parental control.
Unless all parties agree on a final Order, the final hearing will be contested. You will be expected to attend Court and give evidence at the hearing. We will be there to advice and support you throughout. You will only have to give evidence at other ‘interim hearings’ if there is a particular issue in this dispute. At the end of a contested final hearing, the Court decide what order to make and will give its reasons why.
Orders the court can make:
Interim Care Order
The Local Authority will usually apply for an Interim Care Order at the first hearing. This is an order providing a ‘holding position’ until the final order is made at the end of the proceedings.
You, the Guardian and the Local Authority can make representations about this. If you do not consent to the Interim Care Order, there may have to be a contested hearing in order for the Court to decide whether or not there should be an Interim Care Order. Every case depending on the individual circumstances.
If the Court decides to make a Care Order at the Final Hearing, then a Care Order remains in force until a child is 18.
If a Care Order is made, parents with parental responsibility retain that, but the effect of a Care Order is that the Local Authority share parental responsibility, and can make day to day decisions about the care of the child/ren.
The Court can also make Orders about how often you see the children.
Special Guardianship Order or Child Arrangement Order
If it is determined that the parents can’t look after the child/ren safely for the remainder of their childhood, the Local Authority has to consider if any members of the child/ren's extended family are able to care for child.
Any person who wants to be considered must undergo an assessment by Children’s Services as to their suitability. If the assessment is positive, a recommendation for a Special Guardianship Order or Child Arrangement Order may be made to the court.
Depending on the facts of the case, the Local Authority may wish to apply for a Supervision Order rather than a Care Order. A Supervision Order places the children under the supervision of the Local Authority. This means that the children can reside at home but only under certain conditions, an Agreement will be drawn up between the parents and the Local Authority. Supervision Orders normally last for one year but can be extended to a total of three years. A Social Worker supervises the family under the Order and should advise, assist and befriend the supervised child.
If the court finally decides that the best option is for the child to be adopted, a Placement Order will be made. This authorises the Local Authority to find an adoptive placement for the child/ren.
At a later date the adopters would make an application to adopt the child/ren. You are entitled to contest this. If an adoption order is made, the birth parents lose their parental responsibility and the child becomes the legal child of the adopters.
As you can see, care proceedings are complex and the sooner you contact us for advice and assistance, the better. You can make and appointment with one of the specialists in the care team, by phoning our Norwich office or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. A same day appointment can be offered.