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 residency of children and are issued when the local authority believes that a child should be taken into social care.
If a Care Order or Supervision Order is successful, the child will become the responsibility of the local authority.
Parental responsibility can still be granted on certain matters and decisions involving the child, but the local authority retains 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 local authority 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 drug or alcohol problem preventing the parents from looking after the child.
The local authority must prove that the child’s harm and suffering exceed the ‘threshold criteria’ set out in the Children Act 1989.
Care Orders can only be given on children under the age of 17.
Availability for 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.
● 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?
It depends on the age of the child and the severity of the case.
Both the parents and the child can attend the court hearings unless the allegations are serious enough for contact to not be permitted. For a child to have a ‘voice in court’, special discussions will have to take place between the judge and solicitors. Children from the age of 10 are generally able to have a level of autonomous opinion or influence on the case.
The child will be appointed a lawyer and Guardian from the CAFCASS. This Guardian is simply someone who advises the lawyer on what is best for the child, not the individual who will take care of the child.
The parents may also have their hearings in different rooms of the court to avoid contact if they wish.
Interim care orders explained
An Interim Care Order grants the local authority responsibility of the child, and is usually given when the court feels that the child is at risk of immediate serious harm.
These are usually issued at the first court hearing – the First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment.
An Interim Care Order can last for 8 weeks and will then have to be renewed until the case is closed and a decision has been made.
Types of hearings defined
There are 4 main components in a Care Proceedings for a Care Order. There are different hearings for other Orders, like Placement Orders, Supervision Orders and Special Guardianship orders.
1) First hearing dispute resolution appointment
This identifies the issues of the case and the motive/rationale behind the Care Order. The judge/magistrates will work together with the parents and their lawyers, as well as the CAFCASS, to reach a swift and early resolution to the case.
2) Dispute resolution appointment
The DRA will establish the key arguments and opinions of the case. It provides a path towards the Fact Finding Hearing and Final Hearing.
3) Fact finding hearing
The Fact Finding Hearing analyses and cross-examines evidence and arguments. This will establish whether or not a local authority’s allegations and worries are true, and to what extent they have affected and will continue to affect the child. The parents and their solicitor will provide a defence of why the child should remain in parental care.
4) Final hearing
The judge will consider all evidence at the Final Hearing. The judge may decide on no order, or may decide on 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.