As a parent, in Public Law proceedings, it does not matter whether you work or what you earn, the Legal Services Commission will grant you a Public Funding Certificate so that you can be represented in the care proceedings. Unfortunately, other members of the family e.g Grandparents or Aunts and Uncles have to apply for Public Funding in the usual way and have their means assessed.
The initial limit on such a Certificate is £9,000.00. This can be extended on application to the Legal Services Commission as the case progresses.
As a firm sometimes able to reimburse a client’s travel expenses to and from Court and to and from seeing an Expert.
Ordinarily, our instructions are taken directly from you, but sometimes during proceedings, a client is deemed not to be capable of fully understanding the proceedings and/or not capable of giving instructions. In those circumstances, the Official Solicitors Office becomes involved and we would take our instructions from them.
Our Children Panel Solicitors would normally go to Court with you as often as possible but in certain circumstance e.g. pre-booked holidays/illness, we may instruct Barristers to represent you on our behalf.
A Local Authority is able to commence care proceedings in relation to children where there are concerns for the child’s welfare.
If, after carrying out a detailed investigation, the Local Authority considers that a child is at risk of suffering significant harm, they will hold a Child Protection Conference. This is a formal meeting to decide what immediate action is necessary to protect the welfare of the child. At the conference it will be decided whether a Child Protection Plan should be made; this plan will contain the action that is necessary in order to protect the child.
The Local Authority will review matters and if they still have concerns will send you a pre-proceedings letter. This letter will highlight what the concerns are and will ask you to attend a pre-proceedings meeting. At the meeting, the Local Authority will discuss what action they believe is necessary and how they will be able to support you in this action. Any changes you agree to make will be recorded in a formal agreement between you and the Local Authority. If you refuse to make an agreement or fail to keep to the terms of the agreement the Local Authority are likely to commence court proceedings.
The Court is able to make a number of orders on the application of a Local Authority:
This is an order placing the child in the care of the Local Authority.
In order to make a Care Order, the court must be satisfied that the threshold criteria is established. The threshold criteria is:
The child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm; and
The harm or likelihood of harm is attributable to the care given to the child not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give to the child or the child being beyond parental control.
When making an application, the Local Authority must supply the court with a detailed care plan that will be implemented if a Care Order is made. The care plan will cover the child’s needs and how they will be met, the proposed placement of the child, services to be provided and arrangements for contact.
If a Care Order is made it remains in force until the child reaches the age of 18. The Care Order will give the Local Authority parental responsibility jointly with all others that have parental responsibility.
Where possible, the Local Authority will place the child with a member of their family or if this is not appropriate, in accommodation near to the child’s home. The Local Authority also has a positive duty to allow a child in care reasonable contact with his parents.
A Supervision Order is an order putting the child under the supervision of a Local Authority.
In order to make an order, the court must be satisfied that the threshold criteria outlined above is satisfied.
However, in contrast to a Care Order, the Local Authority will not gain parental responsibility if a Supervision Order is made and the child will remain living with its parents. The duties of the Local Authority should a Supervision Order be made are to advise, assist and befriend the child and take steps to give effect to the order. A Supervision Order is normally made for up to one year.
It can take many weeks for the court to make a final decision as to what Order to make. Generally, applications made by the Local Authority are to be concluded in 26 weeks. Whilst the proceedings are ongoing the court has the power to make an interim care order, an interim supervision order or an interim S.8 order (child arrangements order, prohibited steps order or specific issue order). The court can only make an interim order if it is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the threshold criteria is satisfied. An interim order will have the same effect as detailed above; however, this will only be of limited duration.
How it works
Once the Local Authority has issued its application, it will be served on all relevant parties. A child’s guardian will then be appointed. This will be an experienced social worker and their role will be to put forward what they consider to be in the best interests of the child and give instructions to the solicitor representing the child. The child and parents will, therefore, each need separate legal representation.
The Court will set a date for a Case Management Hearing. No later than two days before this date, an advocates meeting must take place. This is a meeting where the legal representatives of each party consider the key information and identify the position of each party. They will also discuss whether there is a need for any expert evidence to be obtained.
At the Case Management Hearing the Court will consider directions including:
Drawing up a timetable for the child – this will be reviewed regularly
Identify key issues and evidence necessary to resolve them
Expert evidence (e.g. parenting assessments, medical assessments etc)
The need for statements and reports
List a date for the Issues Resolution Hearing (IRH)
There will be another advocates meeting at least seven days before the IRH. At the IRH the Court will identify the key issues and whether they can be resolved. If possible, the Court will use the IRH as a Final Hearing. If this is not possible the Court will direct what further evidence is needed to resolve the issues and list the matter for a Final Hearing.
At the Final Hearing, the Court will consider all remaining evidence. Judgment will be given as soon as practicable after the hearing and the Court must state any findings of fact it has made and the reasons for its decision.
For more advice on care proceedings, please contact our Family Department.