Care proceedings are a type of court proceedings that are instigated by a local authority’s social service department. If social services have contacted you because they have concerns about your child, it’s understandable that you might feel upset and want to know what your rights are. It is important for you to know that, as a parent, if the local authority issue care proceedings you are entitled to free legal advice and representation throughout your case irrespective of your financial circumstances.
This guide will help you understand what care proceedings are, what your responsibilities are if you are contacted by social services and the process of care proceedings.
What are Care Proceedings?
Care proceedings are court proceedings issued by the children’s/social services department of the local authority. To begin proceedings, the local authority will have made an application to take action to protect a child from harm. This is usually an application for a Care Order or Supervision Order; these are known as care proceedings.
Why would Care Proceedings be initiated?
If children’s services are concerned a child may be suffering harm or at risk of suffering harm, they can apply to court for permission to take action to protect a child. A social worker may apply for permission from the court for the child to be removed from the care of a parent or parents if they believe that the child cannot safely remain at home.
What do I do if social services have contacted me?
In the initial stages, before care proceedings take place, you will be contacted by social services, who may explain that they have concerns regarding a child’s safety. At this stage we strongly suggest you contact a Solicitor. However, not all Solicitors will be willing to give advice at this stage, as legal aid is only available once care proceedings have been initiated. Howells Solicitors are happy to advise at any stage during contact with social services, not just during the care proceedings.
What do I do if I have received a ‘letter before proceedings’?
To start the pre-proceedings process children’s services must send a child’s parents, or anyone with parental responsibility, a ‘letter before proceedings’ to start the process.
The letter will include:
- The concerns the children’s services have
- Changes they would like the parent or carer to make
- Information about any assessments or courses children’s services think parents should be involved in
- Any support children’s services can put in place
- Invite the parent or carer to a pre-proceeding meeting with the parents solicitor to discuss those concerns
At this stage you should seek representation from a Solicitor. A solicitor will review the letter with you and offer advice. The solicitor’s fees are covered by legal aid for this service.
What is a pre-proceedings meeting?
A pre-proceedings meeting is an important part of the care proceedings. This meeting is a final attempt in preventing the matter going to court. The meeting will be attended by the parents, children’s services, and your solicitor. It will be made clear to the parents what is expected of them in order to reduce the concerns held by children’s services. The purpose of the pre-proceedings meeting is to agree a plan.
The pre-proceedings meeting should achieve the following:
- Clearly set out for the parents what concerns children’s services have
- Make clear what changes children’s services would like the parents to make
- Identify and put in place extra help and services needed to support the family
- Assess and review the needs of the child and family
- Explore what help and support wider family and friends can provide
The plan agreed at this meeting should address the concerns children’s services have and aim to avoid the need to start care proceedings
If this meeting fails to reduce the concerns of children’s services then children’s services may make the decision to start court proceedings and ask the court to make an order for the children.
How much will care proceedings cost me?
Non-means and non-merits tested legal aid is available for parents and carers in care proceedings and for parents seeking advice with a letter before proceedings. We would advise that you seek legal advice and representation before the situation leads to a pre-procedure letter, such as when social services are initially in contact.
What happens at court?
At the start of the court proceedings, social services may ask the family court to make a temporary court order if they are worried about your children. If the court agrees, then children’s services can take your child into temporary foster care or place your child with someone in your family
Over the following months after the first hearing, social workers and other professionals will assess you and your children. They will then make recommendations to the court about what they think is the best outcome for your child in the long term and the court will hear final recommendations about what final orders, if any, should be made, where the children should live and what contact they should have with members of their family.
What are the potential decisions that may be made at a care proceedings hearing?
The final decisions that are made in care proceedings are the following:
Care Order – this order gives the local authority parental responsibility for your children. This usually means that your children will remain in the care of the Local Authority until they are 18 unless the Order ends before that date
Supervision Order – this order will not give the local authority parental responsibility for your children, and it does not enable them to say that your child should live in foster care or with another family member or friend The local authority will supervise the care you are providing to your children for as long as the order lasts.
Child Arrangements Order – this order states where a child will live and could be a family member or friend and will also set out any arrangements for what contact the child or young person will have with other family members.
Special Guardianship Order – this is another order which will state that your children live with another person such as a family member. This order is more difficult for a parent to apply to discharge than a Child Arrangement Order, a Special Guardianship Order is a more permanent arrangement
Placement Order – this order gives the local authority permission to place your children for adoption
Your solicitor will discuss each potential option with you and advise you every step of the way.
What happens If I do not agree with the local authority’s care plan
Sometimes families do not agree with the final decisions or orders made by magistrates or judges at the end of care proceedings. If this happens then it is best that you talk to a solicitor for advice. .
Do I need a Solicitor to deal with care proceedings?
You are entitled to free legal advice and representation throughout all stages of the pre proceedings process (also known as the PLO process). A solicitor will support you by:
- Meeting with you when social services approach you
- Going through the pre-proceedings letter with you
- Fully explaining the concerns the children’s services have and giving you advice
- Meeting with you before the pre-proceedings meeting
- Explaining the assessments and support that children’s services are proposing
- Speaking with the solicitor for children’s services and raise any queries
- Attending the pre-proceedings meeting with you
- As assessments are ongoing, discussing any concerns or questions about the process you have
How can we help?
Our Children Law specialists can support you and your family with any matter relating to children’s law, such as:
- Where children may have suffered sexual abuse, physical or emotional harm
- When Social Services raise concerns about a child’s safety
- When a child is at risk of being taken into care
- Where family members wish to care for a child who is at risk of being taken or has been taken into care
- When a Local Authority seeks an Emergency Protection Order
- Cases surrounding non-accidental injuries
- With other aspects of social care involvement with children, including
– pre-proceedings (PLO) meetings
– case conferences
– child assessment orders
– child protection reviews
- When parents wish to have contact with children in care
- Where parents seek the return of a child in care and the discharging of care orders
- Where parenting is compromised through addiction, mental health issues or learning disabilities
- Where children have special needs
If you would like to speak to a care proceedings specialist or book an appointment, please contact us on:
0114 249 66 66 Sheffield
01709 364 000 Rotherham
01226 805 190 Barnsley
We also offer a free drop in for all children law matters at our offices in Sheffield, Barnsley and Rotherham.