What are care proceedings?

Care Proceedings are a type of court proceedings. These are instigated by a local authority’s Social Services Department.

Care Proceedings occur when an application is made for a Care Order or Supervision Order concerning a child.

Care Orders and Supervision orders concern the supervision and residence of children and are initiated when the local authority believes that a child is at risk of significant harm.

If a Care Order is made by the Court, the local authority will have overall parental responsibility for the child

This does not remove the parental responsibility held by most parents to make decisions involving the child, but the local authority has the right to override parental decisions if they feel that this is in the best interests of the child.

In which circumstances will care proceedings be initiated?

Care Proceedings are initiated when a local authority is worried about a child’s mental and physical welfare. The Court will take into account the care being given to the child and whether the child is suffering as a result of improper, insufficient, harmful or neglectful care.

Children who are deemed beyond parental control can also be taken into care, e.g. where there is a serious behavioural problem preventing the parents from ensuring the child is protected from significant harm.

The local authority must prove that the child’s harm and suffering meet the ‘threshold criteria’ set out in the Children Act 1989.

Care Orders can only be granted for children under the age of 17.

Availability to legal aid

Legal Aid is a public fund that assists people in paying for legal advice and representation.

There are 3 main types of legal aid:

–       Legal Help/Assistance – When a solicitor can advise and discuss Care Proceedings with the local authority but cannot represent at court. This is often used for pre-proceedings (also known as the PLO process).

–       Family Mediation – Where a solicitor can aid with familial negotiation.

–       Legal Representation – Where a solicitor represents the parents in court and helps prepare their case.

Once the parents receive a pre-proceedings letter from a local authority instructing that their child may be taken into care, they are entitled to Legal Aid.

This will allow a solicitor to mediate and attend discussions between the parents and the local authority. In some situations, Legal Aid may also pay for the solicitor to represent the parents in court.

Who can attend the court hearings?

Generally speaking, both the parents can attend the court hearings. All children have an opportunity for their voice to be heard in the court proceedings and in some cases, they can speak directly to the judge but special discussions will have to take place between the judge and solicitors for that to take place.

The child will be appointed a lawyer and Guardian from CAFCASS. This Guardian is simply someone who recommends to the Court what is best for the child, not the individual who will take care of the child.

The parents may ask for special measures to be put in place for Court hearings to avoid contact if they wish.

Interim care orders explained

The word Interim is used when an Order has not yet been finalised. It therefore means that the Order is temporary. An Interim Order will last until the end of the proceedings. An Interim Care Order grants the local authority the same responsibility for a child that a final Care Order would, as set out above.

A local authority often also asks the Court for permission to remove a child into care when they apply for an Interim Care Order because they believe the safety of the child demands this. This is usually at the first hearing.

Types of hearings defined

There are 4 main types of hearings in Care Proceedings.

First hearing

This identifies the issues of the case and allows for any interim orders to be made until the end of the case whilst evidence is obtained for a final decision to be made at the end of the case. The Court will make various case management directions to obtain the relevant evidence to be able to make a decision at the IRH or Final Hearing.

Issues resolution hearing

The IRH will establish the key arguments and opinions in the case. If the issues have all been resolved then the case may end at this hearing with a final order. Otherwise, it provides a path towards the Fact Finding Hearing and/or Final Hearing.

Fact finding hearing

At the Fact Finding Hearing the judge/magistrates analyse and cross-examine evidence and arguments. This will establish whether or not a local authority’s allegations and worries are true. The parents and their solicitor or barrister will provide a response to those allegations. The Court will then weigh up the evidence on the balance of probabilities and state what facts have been found to be true.

Final hearing

The judge will consider all evidence at the Final Hearing and in particular consider what is the best decision in the welfare interests of the child. The judge may decide on no order, or may decide on a variety of different orders – such as a Child Arrangements Order – instead of a Care Order.

Care Proceedings can be traumatic for all involved. Enlisting the service of a specialist family law solicitor is essential. If you have any more questions then please contact Waldrons Solicitors today.

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Last reviewed on 11/07/23 by Luke Boxall who is a Solicitor and a Director