Child Care Proceedings Solicitors
Child Care Solicitors
The Children Act 1989 establishes a scheme for child protection by requiring local authorities to make arrangements for securing the safety and wellbeing of children living in their area.
Part III of the Act imposes duties upon those authorities to provide advice, assistance and services to families and children, and, in some cases, accommodation. Part V of the Act empowers the same local authorities to investigate where there is a concern regarding possible harm to a child (section 47 Children Act 1989) and to take steps in an emergency to remove children to accommodation provided by the local authority (section 44 Children Act 1989). It also permits police officers to remove children from a situation where they may be at risk for a short period of time (section 46 Children Act 1989). These powers of removal are exercisable only in circumstances where there is a ”risk of significant harm” to a child.
Child Care Proceedings
Longer term arrangements for the protection of vulnerable children are governed by Part IV of the Act, which permits the court to make a care or supervision order where a child is at risk of suffering significant harm, attributable to parenting, or lack of parenting that they are receiving, or because they are beyond parental control (section 31 Children Act 1989). The effect of a care order, if made, is to permit the local authority to share Parental Responsibility for the child or children with others, usually the parents. All parties in these circumstances should continue to contribute to the children’s upbringing, but critically, where there is disagreement over a given question (for example, where the child or children should live), it is the view of the local authority – usually delegated to the social worker- that will prevail. Court applications for care orders usually take up to six months to conclude, while parenting and other assessments are carried out.
The Role of the Children’s Guardian
It is a key feature of the Act that children who are the subject of this type of court application should themselves be permitted to participate in the proceedings. If a child has sufficient understanding to do so, they may give their own instructions to a solicitor who will then put forward their point of view to the court. If however they are too young, or lack maturity, then their interests will be safeguarded by a Children’s Guardian, an experienced professional appointed by the court who will scrutinise the parties’ positions and make their own recommendations to the court on behalf of the child or children. The Children’s Guardian will always meet the child or children, listen carefully to what they have to say, and take their views into account when formulating a position. The role of the Guardian is often pivotal; they are seen as independent of the public authority, and the court usually takes their advice with the greatest seriousness.
The Outcome of the Proceedings
Care proceedings are by no means inevitably negative for families. Often parents affected by these cases are prompted and supported to make necessary changes which benefit themselves and their children for the long term. Sometimes family members or friends step in to help. The court remains bound by the paramountcy principle set out in section 1 Children Act 1989, which requires that all decisions taken about children should be made having regard to the child’s welfare as the most important consideration, and the court will only sanction long term separation of a child from his or her family as a last resort.
Where persons with Parental Responsibility, usually parents, are unable to adequately care for a child then others, often family members, may apply to become a Special Guardian for the child under section 14 Adoption and Children Act 2002. If granted, a Special Guardianship order will confer on the holder a superior degree of Parental Responsibility to the child’s parents, so that on any important question affecting the child the Special Guardian’s view will prevail. This type of order is also expected to be long lasting, so the child will be secure knowing that he or she will remain living with their Special Guardian until they grow up. Special Guardians are eligible to receive financial support for their services from the local authority.
In fact, Special Guardianship orders can be a very good outcome for parents, and they are often made by consent. This may be the case where parents are struggling to care for their children, say because of addiction or problems in their relationship, but grandparents agree to take over for example. This means that the children stay in the family and usually continue to see their parents, but are protected by the grandparents, who provide day to day care and accommodation for the children.
Wannops has unrivalled expertise in this field of practice, calling on the services of solicitors with decades of combined experience. We act for parents, other family members, and children themselves, and several of our practitioners are members of the Law Society’s Children Panel, which accredits them as experts.
No, there is a strict rule prohibiting discussion of these types of proceedings with anybody who is not involved in the case. If you break the rule you can be held in contempt of court and possibly sent to prison.
Yes. Legal Aid is available to all parents involved in care proceedings, free of charge. Other family members must apply and justify the grant of public funding on means and merits grounds.
Yes. It is frequently the case that another family member will step in to look after the children if a parent is unable to do so, and they will be assessed by the local authority as a possible carer. The local authority has a legal duty to consider other family members as carers for children if the parents are unable to look after them.
Yes. The local authority have a duty to promote contact between parents and children if they are being cared for outside the family. This can only be refused with the permission of the court.
Yes. The effect of a Care Order is to permit the local authority to share Parental Responsibility for the children with parents, it does not mean that the children will be permanently removed. Before a Care Order is made the Local Authority are required to formulate a Care Plan telling the court and the other parties exactly what they intend to do while the order is in place, including where they say the children should live, so the parents will know what the Local Authority want to happen. Often there will be assessments of the family by independent experts, who may make proposals to support the family and promote positive change for example, so that the children can come home. In some cases the Local Authority will recommend permanent removal of the children, where they think the children will come to harm if they stay with their birth family, but the parents will always be given a chance to argue about this in court.