Care Proceedings…Tell Me More!
Care Proceedings, also known as Public Law proceedings, are more common than many people think. Proceedings are generally issued due to social services having significant concerns that a child/children are likely to be at risk or continuing risk of significant harm if protective measures are not taken. The harm can be emotional, physical, sexual and neglect, and can be in the form of:
- Neglect towards a child/children (can also be a failure to protect – there is a misconception that neglect means that children are unkempt/scruffy/not fed etc, but it can be a failure to protect a child/children from witnessing/hearing arguments/abuse)
- Domestic abuse where the perpetrator is an adult or a child
- Substance abuse
- Injuries to a child/children which have no explanation
- Sexual abuse where the perpetrator is an adult or a child
- Mental health issues.
Social workers seek their own legal advice when they think that matters have become so serious that care proceedings should be issued. This is often when they are fearful for the continued safety and welfare of the child/children involved and are worried that they may no longer be able to live safely with their parent/s.
When a local authority issues care proceedings they are known as the “Applicant” and the other parties in the case known are known as “Respondents”. A Respondent to the application would include the children’s parents, anyone who has parental responsibility for the child/children and the child/children themselves. The child/children are represented through a children’s guardian through the agency CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service). The guardian works independently to social services and will make recommendations to the court about what they believe is in the child/children’s best interests. The guardian instructs a solicitor for the child and they work together to ensure the best possible outcome for the child/children. Last year alone, 12,688 care applications were received by CAFCASS, which related to a total of 21,366 children
It is not commonly known that when care proceedings are issued that the children’s parents and anyone with parental responsibility for the child/children are entitled to free Legal Aid and free legal advice and representation in court proceedings.
Any other person who wishes to play a role in the court proceedings, or is invited to be involved by the court, may be entitled to legal aid but this would be subject to a means and merit test and legal advice should be taken. If a person does not meet the requirements for Legal Aid, but they want to be represented by a solicitor, they will need to pay a solicitor privately.
During proceedings, sometimes a party or witness will require what is called an intermediary. An intermediary is someone who works with the party/witness to ensure the questions being asked are simplified and to make sure they have regular breaks. This is because the party/witness will need the extra support and help so they are able to understand everything that is being said in court, and if necessary, deliver evidence to the best of their ability.
During proceedings, the child/children involved are subject to the Looked After Child Review Process (LAC Reviews) if they are placed into foster care. This means that the arrangements for a child/children’s care and the time they spend with their family are regularly reviewed and parents are updated about their child/children’s progress.
Children are not always placed into foster care during care proceedings, sometimes they remain at home with their parents and sometimes they are placed with family members or close friends. The Court considers all of the options carefully and views separating a child/children from their family as a very serious step. The Court’s primary concern is to do what is best for the child/children.
At the beginning of care proceedings, the parents will be asked to put forward the names of family members and friends who they think will be able to take care of their child/children if the court decides that the child/children should be removed from their care. The social worker will need to complete a viability assessment to ensure the child/children’s needs can be met and the possible carers are able to protect from possible perpetrators.
At Ridley & Hall we treat our clients as people – we break down the barriers of ‘typical’ solicitors and build a rapport with clients to ensure that they feel supported and important. If you have any questions or need representation, please don’t hesitate to contact Natalie Stephenson-Quayle, Care Paralegal on our freephone 0800 8 60 62 65.