The right to make decisions about a child’s welfare rests with the person who has Parental responsibility. However the Local Authority Social Services Department has a duty to ensure children are safe and if it has concerns it can apply to a Court for a Care Order so the child is removed. The application can only be made if the Social Services Department has grounds to believe the child has suffered serious harm or is at risk of suffering serious harm. Care proceedings are started in the Family Court and governed by strict guidelines. There are three main orders:
Emergency Protection Order
If the child is at immediate risk. This is not always necessary, for example if the parents have agreed for the child to be looked after by the Local Authority.
Which could be a Care Order, where the child is placed with Social Services, or a Supervision Order, where the child remains at home but is closely monitored. Interim Orders are put in place to protect the child whilst all the investigations take place.
This could be a range of orders, including:
- Care Order – which would last until the child is 18
- Supervision Order – the child returns home but is monitored by the Local Authority; the Order lasts initially for 12 months but can be extended
- Adoption or Placement Order – where the child is adopted out of the family
- Special Guardianship Order – where the child is usually placed with family members, but the parents’ rights such as parental responsibility are suspended; in addition, the Local Authority may provide access to support and help in the child’s placement such as access to counselling services and financial help with certain expenses if considered appropriate
- Child Arrangements Order – (formerly called a Residence Order until 22nd April 2014), the child resides with another person (who could be the parent) but the parents’ parental responsibility is maintained
The orders are only made after the Court consider all the facts and with the assistance of a Guardian from Child and Family Court Advisory, Support Service (“CAFCASS”) who is appointed to give information and an opinion about what is best for the child. All parties have the right to file statements and obtain medical and other expert evidence if appropriate.
The Court Process
There are various stages to the Court Proceedings and Courts like to try to resolve the case within 26 weeks. You must attend every hearing as it is very important to be present so you can put your side of the case. The likely Hearings are:
- First Hearing – when an application for a Care Order or a Supervision Order is made;
- Case Management Hearing – at this Hearing the Court will consider what sort of experts would need to be involved, etc.;
- Issues Resolution Hearing – here the Court looks at what needs to happen at the Final Hearing, including what experts and witnesses need to be called. However, it is possible for a Final Care Order or other Order to be made at this Hearing so it is very important that you attend as Orders can be made in your absence;
- Final Hearing – this is where the Court hears evidence and makes a final decision
As in all children cases, the welfare of the child is the first and paramount consideration.