When Social Services become involved with you and your family, we understand that you may feel upset and angry or that no one is listening to you. Our sympathetic and caring Family Department will guide you through this difficult time and ensure that you are always aware of the decisions that the Court can make in these situations.
No. Social Services may sometimes call a meeting called a Child Protection Case Conference before applying to the Court. This meeting will consider whether your children can be properly cared for without a Care Order being made, this could be by providing you and your family with support services. At the meeting all agencies and professionals involved with you and your children will be invited to attend.
Social Services may also call a public law outline (PLO) meeting where they will outline their concerns and advise on possible legal action in respect of your child. The meeting is important and you must ask a solicitor to attend with you. Legal aid is available for us to attend that meeting. If you do nothing the local authority is likely to go to Court, but there may be ways that Court can be avoided and it is important that you, with your solicitors (us), cooperate with the professionals involved to try and avoid social services taking matters further.
If the Social Services feel that your children are suffering serious harm or are likely to suffer serious harm they can apply to the Court for what is known as a ‘Care Order’. If you are not told they are going to start Care Proceedings then you will find out when you receive a notice form from the Court telling you when and where the first Court hearing will be.
The Local Authority will apply to the Court for a Care Order on the grounds that your children have suffered serious harm or are at risk of suffering serious harm in the future, because the care you have given to your children is not what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give.
Care Proceedings are started in the Family Proceedings Court and are governed by guidelines, which are meant to ensure that cases are dealt with fairly and without unnecessary delay. Care proceedings should be dealt with within 26 weeks of the Local Authority asking the Court for an Order, unless the case is very complicated.
At the first hearing the Court will not make a final decision about the Local Authority’s application for a care order. At this hearing the Court must decide whether to make an interim order which will say where and with who your children should live until an issues resolution or final hearing takes place; appoint a children’s guardian and a solicitor to represent your children in the proceedings; decide if the case should be transferred to another court; and decide how the case should be prepared for the final hearing.
After the ICO has been made there will be a series of interim hearings where the Court will continue to look at:
- Where your children live
- Who your children see
- How the case will proceed
The Social Worker will discuss with you the care plan in relation to your children and this must take into account your child’s racial, cultural and religious heritage. We are here to discuss with you any disagreements you have about the care plan. If you feel that any alternative family members could care for your children it is important that you inform the Social Worker and discuss this with your solicitor.
Throughout the proceedings there will be numerous statements and reports filed at the Court with all the parties. We can go through the papers with you and help you to make a statement. In some cases the Court will believe it is important that an expert also provides a report and this means that you may be asked to undertake an assessment or attend an appointment at a hospital to see a specialist.
In preparation for the issues resolution hearing or final hearing the Court will have read all of the papers in the case and you will be represented by the solicitor who has dealt with your case. We offer you the benefit of the same solicitor dealing with the case throughout so they are experienced with your situation and will help you to achieve the best outcome possible.