Local Authorities have a duty to protect children in their area. When Social Services receive information suggesting a child might be at risk of harm they will carry out an investigation.
Dealing with Social Services can be a daunting process. It is therefore important that you get legal advice as early as possible to help you understand what is going on and decide how best to deal with the situation.
Legal Aid is still available for parents who want advice in respect of Social Services involvement with their child (though can be subject to your financial situation).
Child Protection Conference
Where Social Services think that a child is at risk of harm they will hold a Child Protection Conference. The Conference will decide if there is a risk and if there is there will be a Child Protection Plan. The Plan is intended to:-
- Keep the child safe and prevent further harm
- Promote their welfare
- To support the family to care for the child
Legal Aid is not always available to cover a lawyer attending conferences but we are able to meet with you to go through any reports that have been prepared and can provide you with advice about what is likely to happen.
When Social workers are concerned about a child they may consider taking the case to Court so that they can ask the Court to make Orders to protect the child.
In most cases Social Services will arrange a meeting with the parents to see if it is possible to reach an agreement about what needs to happen to protect the child from harm so that Court proceedings can be avoided.
A letter will be sent out giving details of the meeting and will set out the concerns that Social Services have, what they intend doing and what they want the parents to do.
You can take a lawyer with you to a pre-proceedings meeting. If you are a parent or person with parental responsibility, you will be entitled to free Legal Aid which will cover the lawyer accompanying you to the meeting.
There are some cases where Social Workers may feel that the risk of harm to a child is so great, or the case so urgent, that the case should go straight to Court. In these cases there will be no pre-proceedings meeting.
When Social Services consider that a child is suffering significant harm, or would be likely to suffer significant harm if a Court Order was not made, then they can go to Court to ask for a Court Order.
The Orders the Court can make include:-
- Emergency Protection Order
- Interim Care Order/Care Order
- Interim Supervision Order/Supervision Order
Social Services will have to file evidence in support of the case. They will have to set out what harm they consider the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering. You get an opportunity to respond to that.
If you are a parent or person with parental responsibility, then you will be entitled to free Legal Aid to be represented in the Court proceedings. It is important that you see a lawyer as soon as possible for advice about any Court proceedings.
Emergency Protection Order
This is an Order that can last for a maximum of 8 days. It authorises the Local Authority to remove a child to accommodation provided by them or on their behalf or can prevent a child being removed from the place they were being accommodated before the Order was made.
This places a child in the care of the Local Authority and gives the Local Authority parental responsibility for the child. Parents do not lose their parental responsibility when a Care Order is made.
This is an Order which places the child under the supervision of a Local Authority and places an appointed supervisor under a duty to advise, assist and befriend a supervised child. The Local Authority do not require parental responsibility for the child under a Supervision Order.
- Application issued by Social Services.
- Meeting for all the lawyers in the case.
- Case Management Hearing – at this hearing the Court want to know what the issues in the case are, what evidence will be filed and when and they will fix a date for the next hearing.
- Local Authority evidence filed.
- Statements from parents filed.
- Guardian’s report filed.
- Further meeting for the lawyers.
- Issues Resolution Hearing – at this hearing the Court identify what is agreed and what remains in issue. If there is no agreement about the arrangements for the child then the Court will fix a hearing at which they can make a decision.
- Final Hearing – this takes place where it has not been possible for an agreement about the arrangements to be reached. The Court will usually hear evidence from the Social Worker, parents and Guardian and will hear from the lawyers for each person as to what they say about the arrangements for the children and the Orders that should be made. The Court then make a decision.
The Court expect the proceedings to finish within 26 weeks.
The Court can be asked to make an Interim Order (temporary order). If an Interim Care Order is made then Social Services can decide on things such as where the child lives during the Court proceedings. They could decide a child will be in foster care during the case.
It is considered important that the children’s interests are protected during the proceedings. They will therefore have their own lawyer. There will also be a Children’s Guardian who is an independent person with expertise in advising the Court about what they consider to be in a child’s best interests. The Guardian is separate from Social Services and may disagree with them about what is best for the child. The Court will always pay special attention to the views of the Children’s Guardian. It is through the Children’s Guardian that the children’s wishes and feelings are made known to the Judge.
You will have a say in what happens. Your views will be put forward through your lawyer and in a written Statement, which we prepare for you and which everyone in the case sees. You will have an opportunity to speak with the Social Worker and the Children’s Guardian. If there is no agreement then you will be able to speak directly to the Court at the final hearing if you wish to give evidence.