The Local Authority will make an application to the Court for a Care Order on the grounds that the child/children have suffered serious harm or are at risk of suffering serious harm in the future because of either:-
a.) The care you are giving or have given your children is not what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give or;
b.) Your child is out of your control.
If you are a parent or carer of a child you will be a party to the Proceedings and so you will receive a copy of the application and information from the Court confirming the first hearing date.
The first Hearing in relation to the Local Authority’s application for a Care Order will be heard at the Local Court. The Court will not make a final decision at the first Hearing. The initial Hearing must take place within six days of the Local Authority’s application and at this Hearing the Court will need to consider whether an Interim Care Order or some other Interim Order should be made which will literally decide where the child/children should live and who should care for them in the interim period. If the making of an Interim Order is in dispute, the Court will set a date and a specific Hearing to deal with the dispute so that a decision can be made. At the initial Hearing the Court will also appoint a Guardian and a Solicitor who will specifically represent the child/children in the Proceedings. At the initial Hearing the Proceedings will also be timetabled to allow all the information and evidence to be gained prior to a final decision being made.
At the first Hearing the Court can make several types of Interim Orders. The first to be considered is the Interim Care Order and this is usually made if the Court decides that there are good reasons to believe that the child/children have been seriously harmed or are likely to be seriously harmed and that an Interim Care Order is the best Order to make for the child/children.
When the Local Authority make an application for an interim care order, they will have prepared what is called an interim care plan which is a document which sets out arrangements for the child and it includes arrangements such as your contact with them.
If an interim care order is made, this will provide the Local Authority with parental responsibility which they will share with any others who have parental responsibility. Parental responsibility is all the rights, duties, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child. In other words this means the ability to make important decisions in relation to the child/children, for example, decisions about where they should live and what schools they should attend. If you do not agree with the care plan and the proposals for where the child/children should live, it is important that you inform us of this so that we can make representations to the court in this respect. You cannot disagree with it unless there is a genuine reason and obviously if you do not agree with the proposal as to where the child/children should live it is crucial that you put forward alternative suggestions.
An alternative order that the court can make at the first hearing is what is called an interim supervision order. This order does not give the Local Authority parental responsibility but means that the Local Authority will supervise and monitor how the child/children are being cared for either by you or by someone else in the family who is looking after them. The court will only make this order if there are good reasons to believe that the children will be safe and will not suffer any harm whilst in this placement.
At the initial hearing the court will also consider the issue of contact and whether an interim contact order is needed. The court will consider whether the proposed arrangements for contact are sufficient and if there is a disagreement in relation to these proposals, the court will clearly be looked upon to make a decision as to whether an order is required to set out the arrangements for contact.
During the proceedings the child will be represented by an independent person who is referred to as the guardian. The guardian will provide information during the proceedings and will also express an opinion as to what is best for the child/children. The guardian is a member of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) and therefore does not work for the Social Services. The guardian works for the court and represents the child in the case.
As the guardian clearly represents the child, this is their main consideration and in essence their involvement is to provide what is best for the child/children. The guardian will want to meet with you and find out your position and it is important that prior to meeting with the guardian you discuss this with us so that we can advise you fully. You can also ask the guardian to talk to other people that know you and your child if you feel that this will assist the them in their investigations. Within the proceedings the guardian will be required to prepare a written report for the court. It is usual that the court will follow the recommendations that the guardian makes but clearly, if the court does not consider this appropriate, the court will make clear the reasons as to why they have not followed the guardian’s recommendations.
If you consider that there are any family members who you believe would be able to care for your child, if they are not returned to your care, it is crucial that you provide us with their names and information as a matter of urgency so that we can put this forward to the Local Authority so that they can commence assessments of those persons.
When the Court is considering making its decision, if it believes a Care or Supervision Order is appropriate, it will only be able to order this if it believes the threshold criteria has been reached. The threshold criteria basically means that the child/children have been seriously harmed or are at risk of being seriously harmed in the future and this harm is because the care that you have given the child has fallen below what would be reasonable to expect a parent to give or because the child/children are out of your control.
In these circumstances harm includes not just the child or children themselves being ill treated but also if the child/children have either seen or heard the ill treatment of another. If the Court considers that the threshold criteria has been met, it will thereafter listen to all the parties’ positions in relation to what would be best for the child/children and if the Court believes that an Order is required to help the child/children, the Court will consider whether the harm or risk of harm is likely to happen again and whether you are willing and able to take steps to deal with Social Services’ concerns about the child/children’s care. If the Court believes that an Order should be made it will decide what is in the child/children’s best interests according to what is called the welfare principle and there is a welfare check list that the Court will consider. If the threshold criteria is reached it does not necessarily mean that you have done anything wrong and the Court may accept that you have tried your hardest but that you still in the circumstances cannot provide the right care for the child.
If the Court considers that an Order is required, the Court can make a final Order as follows:-
If a final decision is made that the child/children are not going to be returned to their parents’ care or any other person within the proceedings, the court should consider whether or not contact should be arranged and this will therefore be dealt with at the final hearing.
If a Care Order is made, this order will remain in force until the child/children reach eighteen years of age. The Care Order can come to an end upon the court making a child arrangement order or a Special Guardianship Order or the court decides that the Care Order should end or that an alternative order such as a Supervision Order would be more preferable. Also, if an Adoption Order is made, this will discharge the Care Order as the child/children will be freed for adoption.
Within these proceedings it is crucial that you attend all hearings and that you work closely with us and also any other professionals involved throughout the proceedings. Please ensure that you do attend all Court Hearings because if you fail to do so, the court may be forced to make an order without taking into account your views.
It is also important to consider the fact that the law on adoption changed at the end of 2005 and that since then the Local Authority can place the child/children for adoption, if they have a Care Order and this can either be done by the parents giving formal consent to the placement or alternatively if consent is withheld, the court can make what is referred to as a Placement Order.
Within these Proceedings it is crucial that you attend all Hearings and that you work closely with a solicitor and also any other professionals involved throughout the Proceedings. Douglas Clift & Co Solicitors have experience of dealing with this difficult and distressing situation and we will work with you to try and get the best possible outcome for your situation. Please contact our Family Law Solicitors who can provide a free no obligation appointment (half an hour) to assess your circumstances with you on 01524 32437 or via our contact page.