What is the care proceedings process?

Thursday 10th June 2021

Care Proceedings occur when a local authority’s social services decide that they need to intervene with a child’s care for the sake of their mental and physical health and wellbeing.

The local authority may issue 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 exceeds ‘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 issue a Police Protection Order on the child to remove children from the care of their parents for 72 hours. This can be preceded by an Emergency Protection Order that authorises the removal of children from the care of their parents for 8 days. Aside from this, the removal of a child from the care of its parents must be approved by court.

The 4 main types of care orders

There are 4 main types of care orders:

Care Order

The most common type of order, the Care Order, transfers responsibility of the child from the parents to the local authority. The local authority will make decisions on the child’s health, education and other parenting decisions. The parents may retain some right to influence decisions over the child but the local authority is able to override these if they feel it is not in the best interests of the child.

Placement Order

Care Orders may precede an adoption Placement Order, the court may decide that the child can live with foster parents or with another family member, e.g. grandparents.

Supervision Order

This order provides less control to the local authority than the Care Order. This order allows the local authority to advise, support, befriend and assist the Child as necessary, but it doesn’t give social services any decision making power. Usually, the Children remain within the family under this order whilst a social worker supervises the child’s wellbeing.

Special Guardianship Order

This order provides Special Guardians with parental responsibility for the child, but they will act alongside the child’s parents. These are usually made when the child is cared for by other relatives or extended family. The Special Guardians will be able to make most decisions concerning the child without parental influence.

The main types of case hearings

Prior to any of these orders being issued, the local authority must decide that 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 issue either of these interim orders. The court must also decide that parental responsibility can’t remain in place until the end of the case.

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 depending on their income.

During the hearings, the child will be appointed a lawyer and Guardian from CAFCASS. The Guardian will look after the child’s interests in the case. The Guardian will assist the lawyer on the best outcomes for the child. Children can disagree with the advice and if they’re over 10 years of age, then they are typically entitled to influence the case, give evidence and help instruct their own lawyer.

Most cases are finished within 26 weeks or 6 months of the starting date.

There are different types of hearings that vary depending on the order involved. Different orders may have different hearings, but 4 common hearing types are:

Case Management Hearing

The Case Management Hearing is an introductory hearing. The plans and timeline for the case will be outlined. Care Orders will involve a First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment where the judge and solicitors will attempt to resolve the case without progressing it further.

Everyone will enter some statements and give some evidence at the first hearing. 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 overview initial evidence and collect statements and opinions from all the key individuals, e.g. counsellors, GPs, social workers, teachers, etc. Some of these statements will be in person, others in writing.

Contested Removal Hearing

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

Issues Resolution Hearing

Once social services have officially declared that they wish for the child to be taken into care and have given their key arguments, the Issues Resolution Hearing will decide how this can be resolved. Issues might be resolved with a Supervision Order rather than with a Care Order. The child may also be able to live with relatives rather than be taken into a social services residency.

Final Hearing

The final hearing will present the evidence and the judge will decide on whether to issue the order(s). The parents can challenge any plans set out by social services and will be able to make a final defence against the finalised plans for their child’s care.

Settlement Conference

The Settlement Conference is more of a mediation process where the family tries to resolve things with the local authority without a traditional court case. In the case of a Care Order, this would be similar to the First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment.

If you have any other queries or questions on different hearings or matters associated with child or family law then please contact Waldrons Solicitors. One of our highly experienced solicitors will be in contact as soon as possible.