When Social Services have serious concerns about your child they may decide to issue Court proceedings known as Care Proceedings. There are different types of Orders that they can apply for and it is vital that you instruct a solicitor to represent you throughout those proceedings.
The different types of Orders that the Local Authority can apply for are:
- Emergency Protection Order
In the event that the Local Authority are so worried about your child that they wish to have them removed from you as a matter of urgency, they can apply for an Emergency Protection Order which allows them to place your child in foster care for up to 8 days under the original Order but this can be extended for a further 7 days. These are short term orders and once the order has expired the Local Authority must return your child to you unless they apply for a Care Order or if you agree for your child to remain accommodated by them (under a section 20 agreement see Child Protection page).
- Care Order
A Care Order gives the Local Authority Parental Responsibility for your child, making it responsible for their day to day care. At the beginning of the proceedings Social Services are likely to apply for an Interim Care Order which initially lasts for 8 weeks and which is then renewed every 28 days. This is a short term order made within the lifespan of the Court proceedings and does not mean that a final Care Order will definitely be made. A final Care Order will only be made at the end of the proceedings if the Court are satisfied that you (or other family members) cannot care for your child. You do not lose your Parental Responsibility when an Interim Care Order or final Care Order is made but the day to day care of the child lies with the Local Authority.
- Supervision Order
A Supervision Order is made when the Local Authority are not seeking to remove your child but when they are still concerned enough to feel you need assistance in caring for them. A Supervision Order is often made at the end of the proceedings but Interim Supervision Orders can be made throughout the proceedings in a similar way that an Interim Care Order is made. The Local Authority does not have Parental Responsibility for your child under a Supervision Order as their role is limited to assisting and monitoring you. A Supervision Order is made for a set period of time, usually one year, but an application can be made for it to be extended.
- Placement Order
A Placement Order application is made by the Local Authority, alongside an application for a Care Order, when they feel that the only option for your child is for them to be placed for Adoption. This Order will only be made if the Court does not believe that you or any family member can care for your child. You retain Parental Responsibility for your child until an Adoption Order is made permanently placing your child with the adopted family.
- Secure Accommodation Order
If the Local Authority are concerned that your child keeps running away and / or they are at risk of causing themselves or others harm they can apply for a Secure Accommodation Order which allows them to place your child in a secure accommodation facility.
Child Assessment Order
The Local Authority can apply for a Child Assessment Order, or the Court can make such an Order if it is deemed necessary for the child’s welfare to be checked and investigated, and the end result could be that the Local Authority wishes to become more involved with your family.
The Police have the power, in very limited circumstances, to remove your child from you, without a Court Order and place them in foster care for up to 72 hours. This is only used in very limited circumstances and you must contact a solicitor as soon as this occurs.
Care Proceedings have to adhere to a strict timetable and if possible must be completed within 26 weeks. There are four types of hearings:
- Initial hearing- where the Court will decide (if requested to) whether or not to grant an Interim Care Order.
- Case Management Hearing- where directions are set out as to how the case will progress. It will also be decided whether or not any further assessments will be carried out of you by the Local Authority or any other parties.
- Issues Resolution Hearing- where the Court try to narrow the issues prior to the final hearing.
- Final Hearing- where final decisions are made as to your child’s future.
As soon as the Local Authority issue Care Proceedings your child is appointed a Guardian who is a member of Cafcass (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service). The Guardian is there to represent you child’s best interests and will appoint a Solicitor on behalf of your child.
If your child is placed in Foster Care throughout the proceedings the Local Authority have a duty to arrange contact between you and your child, which is usually supervised in a contact centre. The frequency depends on the circumstances of your case. If a final Care Order is made the Local Authority will continue to provide contact but this is subject to review at regular Looked After Children Meetings. When a Placement Order is made your contact will be reduced but will not stop until the child is placed with its potential adoptive family. Once your child is adopted it is usual for twice yearly letter contact to take place.
Family Members Caring for a Child
If you wish for a family member to be considered as an alternative carer for your child the Local Authority should complete a Viability Assessment to consider whether or not they are a possible option for your child. If you are a family member who wishes to be considered as a carer for the child in question then we can advise you as to what steps to take and if appropriate assist you in applying for a Child Arrangements Order or a Special Guardianship Order.
Special Guardianship Order
These Orders are often made when a family member (other than a parent) is caring for a child. Prior to making these Orders the Local Authority have to provide the Court with a Special Guardianship Report which includes details of any support (financial or otherwise) they intend to give the carer of the child. These Orders can be made as part of Care Proceedings or as a stand-alone application providing you have given the Local Authority three months notice that you intend to apply for such an Order. A Special Guardianship Order does not remove the parents’ Parental Responsibility but does allow the person in whose favour the Order is made to exercise their Parental Responsibility to the exclusion of the parents if necessary to meet the child’s needs.
How we can help
Our experienced team deal with all the above on a day to day basis. We can grant you legal aid if you are eligible for it and in some circumstances it is non means tested. Please call Melanie Stafford on 01733 896789 for more information.