The right to make decisions about a child’s welfare rests with the person who has Parental responsibility. However the Local Authority Social Services Department has a duty to ensure children are safe and if it has concerns it can apply to a Court for a Care Order so the child is removed. The application can only be made if the Social Services Department has grounds to believe the child has suffered serious harm or is at risk of suffering serious harm. Care proceedings are started in the Family Court and governed by strict guidelines. There are three main orders:
Emergency Protection Order
If the child is at immediate risk. This is not always necessary, for example if the parents have agreed for the child to be looked after by the Local Authority.
Which could be a Care Order, where the child is placed with Social Services, or a Supervision Order, where the child remains at home but is closely monitored. Interim Orders are put in place to protect the child whilst all the investigations take place.
This could be a range of orders, including:
The orders are only made after the Court consider all the facts and with the assistance of a Guardian from Child and Family Court Advisory, Support Service (“CAFCASS”) who is appointed to give information and an opinion about what is best for the child. All parties have the right to file statements and obtain medical and other expert evidence if appropriate.
The Court Process
There are various stages to the Court Proceedings and Courts like to try to resolve the case within 26 weeks. You must attend every hearing as it is very important to be present so you can put your side of the case. The likely Hearings are:
As in all children cases, the welfare of the child is the first and paramount consideration.
Legal Aid is available at all stages free of charge if you are a parent or person with parental responsibility although for the initial interview your means are assessed. If you are another interested person such as a grandparent you may be eligible for Legal Aid but your means have to be assessed first – we can assist with this.
In Care proceedings it is vital to seek Legal Advice and representation is free to parents and people with Parental Responsibility.
Ginnie Lambert has been approved by the Law Society to be on their Children Panel and has considerable experience in these types of cases.