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Care Proceedings

If the placement is no longer viable then the Local Authority could issue care proceedings in relation to your child. This does not necessarily mean that you are incapable of caring for the child, it could just mean that despite intense support the child’s needs are beyond what you can offer and therefore the only remedy is for the Local Authority to remove the child from your care.

This can be done in two ways. The first is through s.20 accommodation. This is where the Local Authority agree to accommodate the child whilst alternative options are looked at. The second is by the Local Authority issuing care proceedings.

If the Local Authority are happy to accommodate the child under s.20 of the Children Act 1989 then you will still retain parental responsibility, however, your child will be removed from your care and is likely to be placed in foster care.

If the Local Authority issue care proceedings then it is likely that they feel they need to share parental responsibility in order to manage and at times make decision in relation to your child.

If proceedings are issued then they should take no longer than 26 weeks to conclude. If the case is complex then the proceedings can be extended for up to eight week periods at a time. This can only be granted if the Court feel it is necessary. The case will be considered complex if there are a number of issues relating to medical evidence, if there is an international element, parents have a disability which requires specialist assessment or treatment or if something unexpected happens part way through the proceedings.

Frequently Asked Questions

You may be told that care proceedings are going to start by social services, or otherwise you will receive notice from the court telling you where and when the first hearing will be.

You should obtain legal advice straight away.

The local authority will apply to the court for a care order on the grounds that your child has or is likely of suffering serious harm. The new law states that the proceedings should be concluded in 26 weeks unless the issues are complex.

The court will not make any final decisions at the first hearing. The court must:

  • Decide whether to make an interim order (an order that will say where the child shall live and who will look after them until the final hearing
  • Decide how the case should be prepared for the final hearing

Once the interim order is made the matter is not normally returned to the Court until all assessments have taken place.  This hearing usually takes place towards the end of the 26 weeks.

It is important that you inform your solicitor about any problems or aspects of the current arrangements that you are unhappy with. It is important to keep all information about the case.

Perhaps in a folder with all letters, notices, conversations with the social worker and record of dates, your own notes about telephone conversations or meetings wit social services or any other professionals.

When the Local Authority makes their application it will be assessed by the Court in relation to its complexity.  They will then decide which Judge will hear the application.  This could be Magistrates (formally the Family Proceedings Court), District Judge or Circuit Judge (formally County Court).

If the Local Authority are seeking an urgent order and you do not agree with that order, then the application will be listed for a hearing as soon as possible.

If the Local Authority is not seeking an urgent hearing then the first hearing will take place 12 days after the application was issued.  The hearing must, however, take place before day 18.  This hearing is called a Case Management Hearing.

A case management hearing is where the parties and the Court decide how the case is to progress. Assessments of the parents and other potential carers will be given dates for when they are to be made available to all parties.

If it is felt that any experts are needed, such as a psychologist or a psychiatrist then these should be agreed at this hearing.

A further hearing will also be listed called an Issues Resolution Hearing.

If there are issues which need to be determined before the assessments can be concluded such as who caused the injury to the child, then it is possible that a fact finding hearing will be listed to determine this. This is a hearing where the court will hear evidence from all the parties and make a conclusion based on what they have heard/seen as to who caused the injuries.

An issues resolution hearing is a hearing which will take place towards the end of the proceedings. If all parties are in agreement at this hearing then mattes can be concluded if the Court agrees. If there is no agreement then the matter will be listed for a final hearing which will usually take place over a number of days as evidence from the parents/experts is likely to be needed.

This is where the Court, after considering all the evidence will make a final decision as to what should happen with the child in terms of where they should live and what contact there should be, if any.

The final orders the Court can make are:-

  • Care Order
  • Supervision Order
  • Child Arrangement Order
  • Special Guardianship Order
  • Placement Order

Care Order

This order places your child in the care of a particular local authority and gives parental responsibility to that authority. This does not mean that you lose parental responsibility but it does mean that the local authority can override your wishes if it believes this would be best for your child.

The local authority should support you so that, unless the risks to your child are too high he or she can be returned to your care, or to the care of other members of your family if that is not possible. Case reviews must be held every 6 months to consider their plans and you should attend. If you cannot attend the local authority should give you the information on the decisions made.

The law on adoption changed at the end of 2005. Since then, local authorities can place your child for adoption only if they have a care order, and: you give formal consent to the placement; or the court makes a placement order

You can ask the court to discharge the care order. If you have already asked in the last six months but want to ask again, then you must get the court’s permission.

You will have to show the court that it is in your child’s best interests for the care order to be discharged. If the court agree and discharge the care order then you and any other person with parental responsibility will take over caring for your child.

Supervision Order

This means that you will be responsible for your child’s care but social services have the power to ‘supervise’ how you care for your child and the order can last from 1 to 2 years.

Child Arrangement Order

This is an order which replaces residence/contact and custody/access orders.  It is an order which will state where the child should live and what contact the child is to have with the non-resident party.

Special Guardianship Order

This is an order that the court can make to place a child for longer periods of time with someone who is not their parent. It is meant to be more permanent than a residence order because a parent cannot apply to revoke or cancel the order without the court’s permission. However, a special guardianship order does not break the legal relationship between a parent and child.

The special guardian will gain parental responsibility for him or her and although you will still have parental responsibility as well, the special guardian has the right to override your wishes if you cannot agree.

Placement Order

If the placement breaks down whilst the child is still young, then the Local Authority can seek a further placement order for the child.  If granted then this order allows the Local Authority to seek another adoptive placement.

A full care order lasts until the child is 18 years old unless the court:

a. Makes a residence or special guardianship order

b. Ends (discharges) the care order when it decides it should not continue

c. Makes a supervision order instead

d. Makes an adoption order

You can ask the court to discharge the care order at anytime. If you have already asked in the last six months but want to ask again, then you must get the court’s permission.

You will have to show the court that it is in your child’s best interests for the care order to be discharged. If the court agree and discharge the care order then you and any other person with parental responsibility will take over caring for your child.

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