What are Care Proceedings?
If a Local Authority has serious concerns about the safety or welfare of a child, it can apply to the Court to take the child into Care. Children are only taken into care when
- there are real concerns that they are suffering or
- are likely to suffer significant harm from the way they are being looked after by their parents or Carers or
- where the child is beyond the control of a parent
Sometimes, a Local Authority may also apply to the Court to have a child placed for adoption.
When might a Local Authority apply to take a child into Care?
The usual trigger for Care Proceedings is when the Local Authority believes a child is being neglected. Neglect involves ongoing, serious failure to meet a child’s basic needs and can include
- not taking a child to see a Doctor when they need to go
- not giving the child enough to eat or drink
- not keeping the child clean
- when the Local Authority is worried that the child has been, or is likely, to be abused either by their parents or Carers or other people they know
- physical abuse involving inflicting pain or injury to a child and also includes giving a child harmful substances, such as drugs, alcohol or poison
- sexual abuse when a child is pressured forced or tricked into taking part in any kind of sexual activity
- emotional abuse, when a parent or Carer behaves in a way that is likely to seriously affect the child’s emotional development. This can include constant rejection continual, severe criticism and witnessing domestic violence
What will happen if the Local Authority is worried about a child?
If the Local Authority is seriously worried about the safety or welfare of a child it may start ‘Care Proceedings’. If it also believes that the child should be adopted, it might also apply for a Placement Order.
The Local Authority will firstly ask the Family Court to make an Interim Care Order. Then the Local Authority Social Worker will carry out some investigations into your children’s welfare and suggest a Care Plan.
- The Care Plan outlines what they think should happen to your children, including whether they think your children should be taken into Care or stay in the family
- The Care Plan will be given to the Family Court to help it make the final decision about what should happen to your children
If you do not agree with the Local Authority’s Care Plan for your children we can advise you and put forward your objections. Your child will also have an Independent Reviewing Officer appointed to review the Local Authority’s Care Plan and you can speak to them and attend reviews to give your views.
What is the role of the Cafcass worker in all this?
The Cafcass worker’s most important role is to make sure children are safe and to help make sure that the decisions made about them are in their best interests. In care and placement proceedings, their job is to check the Local Authority’s plan and make sure that it is the best possible for the child. It is also to let the Court know what they think should happen.
The Cafcass worker will:
- appoint a Solicitor to represent the children
- at the first Court Hearing, advise the Court on what work needs to be done before it can make a decision about the children’s future
- write a report for the Court on what they think is best for the children including information on the children’s wishes and feelings
- spend time with the children and their family before they write their Report for the Court
- may also talk to other people who know the family, such as Teachers, Social Workers and Health Visitors
- will go to relevant meetings about the children, check records and have the right to read the Local Authority’s Case File
- may also recommend to the Court that other independent professionals help the Court with advice, such as a Doctor or a Psychologist.
How long will it take to decide what is going to happen?
Until April 2014 it could take about nine to twelve months for a Court to decide what was going to happen in the end.
However, as a result of The Children & Families Act 2014 all Care Proceedings will now have to be resolved within 26 weeks by a newly created Family Court. The momentum for change was a desire to speed up the process & make it less confrontational. This new time limit will only be extended if the Court decides that an extension is necessary to resolve the Case “justly.” Exceptions may arise where
- there is complex medical evidence
- an international element
- the parents have disabilities
- something unexpected emerges
There will normally be assessments to help decide whether children can safely remain at or return home or whether they should stay in Care. There may also be assessments of other family members or friends who may be suitable Carers if children are not able to safely return home. There may also be work with the parents to reduce any risk there may be.
What will happen in the end?
The Judge will listen to everyone involved in the Case including you, your Solicitor, the Local Authority Social Worker and the Cafcass worker before making a decision. If the judge is satisfied that it is safe to do so, children will go back home. For others, the Local Authority will find them a new home. That may be with other members of their family or with friends, or it may be with a new family.
These are complex and emotionally charged issues so if you need advice on this or any other aspect of the Law relating to caring for Children, get in touch with our dedicated Team specialising in all areas of Children Law. Please contact us for more detailed advice.