Care ProceedingsThis guide is designed to help you understand the process if your local authority social services become involved with your child or children.
Social Services have an obligation to both support families and safeguard children who may be at risk of harm, whether from family members or other individuals.
Reasons why Social Services May Become Involved.
- An adult family member, a professional such as a teacher or GP can make a request to family support services from social services. This normally happens during times of stress or when assistance is required regarding a particular child or family problem.
- If there has been violence between adults, then Social Services may feel that there are genuine child protection issues for the child or children.
- If your child or children have been taken into care following emergency intervention by the police or a court order.
If social services become involved with your family, then it is natural to feel anxious. Many people fear the involvement of social services because they are frightened that social workers will remove their children from the family home.
In order for social services to remove a child from the family there needs to be very clear evidence that they are at risk of significant harm. Social services will also be required to have a court order in place. If, however, social services consider that your child is in immediate danger, the police can take a child into ‘police protection’, but they have to return your child to your care within the next 48 hours unless the court makes an Emergency Protection Order (EPO).
What is an Emergency Protection Order (EPO)?
An emergency protection order is only used in very serious situations. It basically limits parental responsibility for the child or children. The parental responsibility is limited to just what is needed for the child’s welfare. An Emergency Protection Order (EPO) also provide the right to remove the child from a potentially harmful environment or prevent their removal from a safe environment.
If social services have applied for an EPO they normally have to provide the parents with one day’s notice of their application. In very serious cases however, they don’t have to give any notice. If social services make an application with no notice, a copy of the application and the order must be given, sent or served on the parents within 48 hours.
If you have been served an Emergency Protection Order (EPO) then we recommend that you contact a family solicitor as soon as possible. Our family solicitors can provide legal aid for these types of case. Unless it’s an application made without notice, you will also have the right to go to the hearing and question social services about the need for an emergency protection order. If you have instructed a solicitor, they will be able to represent you in the hearing.
What is a Section 47?If there are genuine concern regarding the safety or welfare of a child or children, social services may decide to do a child protection investigation, this is called a Section 47 enquiry. A section 47 enquiry means that social services believe that a child or children living in the home has been abused or neglected or there is a likelihood that abuse or neglect is likely to occur in the future unless steps are taken to safeguard the child’s welfare.
If you have been told that a section 47 enquiry will be carried out it is to determine if your child’s needs are being met. They will also use the enquiry to decide whether further action is needed. In a lot of cases, once the investigation has been complete no further action is taken.
During the investigation it will necessary for social services to interview the parents. Depending on the age and circumstances the child or children may also be formally interviewed on their own. It is also likely that you will be asked to agree that your child or children to submit to a medical examination by the GP. Social services must seek your views and consider the child’s wishes and feelings when deciding what action should be taken in the Section 47 enquiry. Other information might be gathered from schools, GPs, or other professionals who know you and your child well. If there is someone you think they should talk to, to get a better understanding of your family you should tell them.
Once the investigation has been completed, social services should make contact with you regarding the outcome. If social services decide that there is no cause for concern, then no further action will be taken. If, however they consider the child has probably been abused or neglected or is likely to be unless changes are made, then a child protection case conference will be arranged. This may be because they think you or someone else in your family has done something to harm the child, or because of something you haven’t done, such as getting necessary medical treatment, or making sure your child is properly supervised.
The Child Protection ConferenceA child protection conference is basically a meeting designed to help everyone involved in the investigation to assess all the information and plan the best way to safeguard the child or children. Parents are often encouraged to attend these meetings and you have the right to take someone for support or have a family solicitor present.
The meeting will determine whether or not the child or children have suffered or if they are likely to suffer any significant harm. The meeting will also look to determine whether or not there should be a formal child protection plan (CP Plan) put in place. If it is decided that a child protection plan should be put in place, then a detailed statement will be given to the parents outlining the protection services to be provided. A copy of this statement will also be given to other relevant professionals associated with the case.
If it is decided that a formal protection plan is not necessary but there are still concerns about a child’s wellbeing, then an agreement may be made between the parents, older children and professionals that a ‘family support plan’ should be put in place. This is sometimes known as a ‘child in need’ plan.
In some cases, the chairperson may exclude a parent from the meeting, this can be for a variety of reasons including:
- The parent is suspected of being the perpetrator of abuse or neglect
- The parent has a history of violence or is likely to be violent towards someone at the meeting
- Severe mental health issues
- The parent is under the influence of alcohol or drugs
If you feel you have wrongfully been excluded from a meeting, then you should speak to your family solicitor and they should address the issue in writing. If you are excluded from the meeting, then you have the right to make a formal complaint or seek judicial review of the decision to exclude you. We would recommend that you speak legal advice before doing this.
Child Protection PlanIf a Child Protection Plan is put in place, regular meetings called Core Groups will be held. The purpose of these meetings is so professionals, parents and children, if appropriate, can go through the plan thoroughly and decide how everyone can work together. Meetings are held regularly to monitor progress and to decide if the plan needs to change. The Child Protection Plan is a written record for parents, carers and professionals.
The Child Protection Plan will cover:
- Which type(s) of abuse or neglect have occurred or are likely to occur if the protection plan is not successful
- Who are the key worker(s) for both the child(ren) and parent(s)
- Who are the members of the Core Group?
- What work needs to be done by the parents and professionals to reduce the concern and safeguard the child
- What needs does the child have and how will they be met
- What are the parents’ needs and what support will be made available to them?
- When the work should happen and the date that the plan will be reviewed to see if it is still necessary, or there can be a less formal family support plan to provide the help needed instead
- Who is responsible for each part of the plan?
A record of the Child Protection Plan will be kept by the agencies that were invited to the meeting and the parents and older children.
Care ordersIn the event that the local authority decides to apply for a care order through the courts, we would recommend that you seek legal assistance immediately. Unlike many aspects of family law, legal aid is available for care proceedings. Our solicitors are located across the UK and can provide you with representation. Call us on 0333 2070 601 for help and assistance.
If a care order is granted by the court, it allows a council to take your child or children into care. Under the Children Act 1989 a local authority can apply for a care order if it believes a child is suffering or at risk of suffering significant harm.
The court’s job is to decide if the child can be taken into care.
Care orders can last until:
- the child’s 18th birthday
- an order is made giving parental responsibility to another person - eg through adoption or special guardianship
- the court lifts the order (this is called ‘discharging’ the order)
Making a complaint
If your child is taken into care and you’re unhappy about their treatment then, you have the right to make a complaint. First you will need to speak with your child’s carer or social worker and if you’re still not happy then you can complain to your local council.
If you need some help and support, then we would recommend that you contact the Family Rights Group who can offer impartial and confidential
Family Rights Group helpline
Telephone: 0800 731 1696
Monday to Friday, 10am to 3.30pm
Care proceedingsYour local authority can start ‘care proceedings’ if they’re very worried about the wellbeing of your child or children.
The local authority can apply for a ‘care order’ which means your local council will be granted parental responsibility for your child or children and they will be able to determine where your child can live.
They can also apply for a ‘placement order’ if they believe that the child should be adopted. This allows the council to place the child with suitable adopters.
Interim care ordersAt the start of care proceedings, your local council will ask the family court to make a temporary court order, called an ‘interim care order’.
If the family law court agrees, the council can take the child into care on a temporary basis. This can initially be for up to 8 weeks.
It can then take up to 26 weeks for a court to decide what should happen to the child. In Some complex cases this process can take much longer.
During this period a social worker, an officer from Cafcass and other relevant professionals will be evaluating the situation and trying to understand the reasons behind why the child is at risk. They will also be looking at ways to keep the child safe in the future.
The various professionals will talk to you and possibly your child. They may even wish to speak with other members of your family about looking after the child if they can’t safely live at home.
Both the social worker and the Cafcass officer will provide a written report for the court. These reports will outline what they think should happen to the child.
They will include whether they think the child should be taken into care or stay with the family.
Once all the information has been gathered, there will be a court hearing.
Going to court
Once all the information has been gathered together, there will be a court hearing. The judge will look over the reports, and listen to everyone involved in the case, including:
- the parents
- the child (if appropriate)
- solicitors representing parents and children
- the council social worker
- the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) officer
Once the judge has had an opportunity to listen to everyone involved, he or she will make a decision on whether the child is safe to return home. If the judge rules that the child is not safe to return home, then the local council will find them a new home.
When re-homing a child the local council will consider a number of options including:
- with other members of their family
- with friends
- a new family
- a children’s home
- a foster carer
During care proceedings, a Children’s Guardian from Cafcass will be appointed to represent the rights and interests of the child. They will spend time getting to know the child and their family before the hearing starts.
What the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) do
The Children’s Guardian can:
- appoint a solicitor for the child
- advise the court on what needs to be done before it can make a decision
- tell the court what they think would be best for the child this can include the child’s wishes and feelings
- go to meetings about the child
- check records and read the council’s case file
- recommend to the court that other independent professionals help the court with advice, eg a doctor or psychologist
For further help and advice regarding care proceedings, contact us today on 0333 2070 of complete the enquiry form.