If a medical professional, teacher, or social worker is worried about the welfare of a child, they may contact the local authority to report their concerns. After looking into the report, social services may decide that further intervention is required to keep the child safe. To do this, they may decide to open a court case (often referred to as a public law case or care proceedings) to seek a care order or supervision order.
If care proceedings have been issued against you and you’re in need of legal advice, Nash & Co Solicitors in Plymouth can help you.
“Anyone with children will know that they can suffer cuts, bruises and other injuries very easily through play, rough and tumble, and a host of other means – and how these have happened are often an absolute mystery to their parents. The idea of being accused of harming your child is a nightmare scenario for parents, but unfortunately it can become a painful reality if a child has cuts, bruises or other physical injuries that cannot be explained.”
Peter Ash, Partner
What are care proceedings?
Simply put, care proceedings are legal actions that have been issued against parents by the local authority’s social services. These orders are made when a child may have been harmed deliberately, or a social worker believes that a child is at serious risk of harm. These decisions are not made lightly, and these actions are typically a last resort, following ongoing involvement from social services to remedy the situation.
If a child has suffered an injury and has been taken to hospital, sometimes the doctors may be worried about how these their injuries may have occurred. If the injuries are thought to be non-accidental (i.e., deliberately inflicted on the child), medical professionals may be concerned that you are not looking after the children properly. The local authority can also be contacted if a person suspects a child is being neglected, suffering physical or emotional harm, experiencing sexual abuse, witnessing violence or is being living in an environment where drugs or alcohol are being abused. If evidence is found of deliberate harm and/or serious risk, social services can step in to remove the child for up to 72 hours.
If care proceedings have been issued, there are a number of different orders that a court can make:
- Care Order: This means parental responsibility is granted to the local authority. Whilst parents still have some rights, the local authority are in charge and have the final say over things such as healthcare, education and day-to-day decisions. When a care order is issued, the child may be placed with a foster family or another family member.
- Placement Order: This takes the care order one step further. If the local authority feels that it’s necessary for the child to be adopted, a care order and a placement order will be requested from the courts.
- Supervision Order: This means that the child can remain with their family, under the supervision of the local authority. Social services will not have any parental responsibility or decision-making powers, they simply serve to advise, support and assist the child as necessary.
- Special Guardianship Order: This allows appointed persons (known as special guardians) to have parental responsibility, alongside the child’s parents. Often made when children are cared for by members of their extended family, the order means special guardians can make welfare decisions independently from the child’s parents.
How can we help?
We have specialist family law solicitors who are members of the Law Society’s Children’s Panel. Our team represent parents and children in care proceedings. If your child is taken into care, we can help you to understand what will happen next.
We know these situations can be very complex, emotional and difficult, but we’re here to support you. We will use simple terms to explain what is happening every step of the way and ensure you understand what’s happening. We’ll explain how your child will be cared for and what rights you and your child have. Our family law experts can also accompany you to meetings and represent you if the case goes to court.
What happens in Court?
Parents accused of inflicting non-accidental injuries may have to defend themselves against charges of child abuse while their child is taken to live with relatives or taken into care. However, in most situations, Social Services will try to work with families to avoid them having to go to Court. You may have received a letter from them stating that they are going to start ‘pre-proceedings’ and you will be advised to take this letter to a solicitor immediately. This is the step before Court proceedings; it must be taken seriously, and it is important that you have legal representation during this process. If Social Services are not happy with the progress that you are making, they might start Court proceedings and we will try and help you to avoid this from happening. This sort of case is called a ‘public law’ case or ‘care proceedings’. Usually, this happens after the local authority have tried to make things safer but feel that this has not worked – but sometimes there is no time for this.
What should I do now?
If you are sent Court papers, you should contact our accredited family law specialists immediately and tell us the date of the meeting so that we can arrange to attend with you. If you are a parent of the child, you will be entitled to free legal advice and representation (Legal Aid). Legal Aid may also be available if you are a relative of the child depending on your circumstances.
We know that childcare cases can be very distressing to all concerned. The thought of someone taking your child away from you is frightening and worrying even if the people involved are doing it because they think it is best for the children.