What is the care proceedings process?

Care Proceedings occur when a local authority’s social services believe that they need to intervene with a child’s care because they are suffering or at risk of suffering significant harm.

The local authority may apply for a Care Order, which involves a court case. These court cases are public law court cases and are usually used as a last resort when initial efforts to improve the child’s welfare have failed.

Care Proceedings are issued when the local authority believes the child is at risk of ‘significant harm’, but wide criteria may be assessed to arrive at the decision to instigate Care Proceedings.

The local authority must prove that harm to the child meets ‘threshold criteria’ set out in the Children Act 1989. They may believe that the child is not being looked after adequately, or that the parents are unable to control the child.

In emergency situations, the police can use Police Protection powers (sometimes referred to as a Police Protection Order but it is not really an “order”) to remove children from the care of their parents for up to 72 hours. Aside from this, the removal of a child from the care of its parents must be approved by court.

The 4 main types of orders

There are 4 main types of orders in Care Proceedings:

Care Order

The most common type of order, the Care Order, provides overall parental responsibility of a child to the local authority. The local authority will then be able to override the parents’ decisions about where the child lives and on the child’s health, education and other parenting decisions. The parents retain parental responsibility, and the local authority has a number of duties to parents to ensure they are consulted in decision making and that reasonable contact to the children is in place. In fact, the local authority can even decide to place a child at home with the parents under a Care Order.

Placement Order

If a Court grants a local authority a Placement Order, then the local authority can place the child for adoption. This precedes an Adoption Order which, if granted, removes all parental responsibility from the parents and so severs their relationship with the child.

Supervision Order

This order provides less control to the local authority than the Care Order. The local authority will supervise the child’s wellbeing by advising, befriending and assisting them where necessary. The family typically remain in control of the child because the local authority is not given parental responsibility under this order.

Special Guardianship Order

This order provides Special Guardians with overall parental responsibility for the child. These are usually made when the child is cared for by other relatives or extended family (sometimes known as kinship carers). The Special Guardians will be able to make most decisions concerning the child because they can override decisions that the parents might want to make for the children. The local authority has a duty to provide support to Special Guardians under a support plan. We recommend that all proposed Special Guardians take independent legal advice on their position and the proposed support plans. We can offer this expert specialist advice at Waldrons Solicitors.

The main types of case hearings

Prior to any of these orders being made, the Court must decide whether the child is suffering significant harm due to their parental care.

At the beginning of the court case, the court may make an Interim Care Order or Interim Supervision Order. These are temporary orders that last until the end of the court case. There must be reasonable grounds to make either of these interim orders.

Legal Aid is available to the parents in any of these cases. Legal Aid means parents or other legal guardians can access a lawyer for free, who should also be able to represent them in court.

During the hearings, the child will be appointed a lawyer and Guardian from CAFCASS. The Guardian recommends what they think is in the child’s interests in the case. Children can disagree with a Guardian and if they are competent enough, they can instruct their own lawyer.

Most cases are supposed to finish within 26 weeks (i.e.,6 months) of the starting date.

There are different types of hearings:

Case Management Hearing

The Case Management Hearing (sometimes known as a Directions Hearing) is an introductory hearing. The plans and timeline for the case will be outlined by the Court.

Everyone will be asked to provide a statement and any other relevant evidence. Assessments will be made of the child’s wellbeing and physical and mental health background. There may be more than one of these hearings in particularly complex cases. The general gist is to obtain evidence and collect statements and opinions from all the key individuals, e.g. GPs, social workers, teachers, psychologists, etc. The Court will also decide who is going to be assessed to potentially care for the children. This can include the parents but also any alternative family or friends put forward.

Contested Removal Hearing

Social services may want to remove a child from the parent’s care at the beginning of the case and so a Court decides this at a Contested Removal Hearing, so long as the parents object to this happening. This hearing often includes hearing evidence and considering statements from key individuals including the Guardian, the parents and social workers involved.

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 Final Hearing.

Final Hearing

All evidence is presented at the final hearing and the judge will decide on whether to grant the order(s) applied for. The parents can challenge any plans set out by social services and will be able to make a final response to the local authority plans for their child’s care.

Contact Waldrons solicitors

Whatever your query, get in touch with us here at Waldrons today.

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