As a parent, in Public Law proceedings, it does not matter whether you work or what you earn, the Legal Aid Agency 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.
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.
What are Care Proceedings?
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.
What orders can the court make?
This is an order placing the child in the care of the Local Authority.
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.
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).
For more advice on care proceedings, please contact our Family Department.