Children & Social Matters
When Children’s Services become involved with the care of children, it can be an intimidating process for all concerned. This leaflet provides information about some of the legal aspects if a Local Authority takes court action.
The Local Authority’s role
Local Authorities are under a duty to protect and promote the welfare of children in need. Children’s Services must make attempts to work with parents to allow children to be bought up within their own families unless the risk of harm to the child is too great. In those circumstances, Children’s Services may take legal advice and indicate that they are going to take the matter to Court.
A Care Order allows a Local Authority to share parental responsibility for the child and allows the child to be placed in Local Authority care. Interim Care Orders may be made during the court case until it has been finally decided whether he/she can return to parental care, be cared for by another family member or whether long term Local Authority care or adoption should be considered.
If an application is made to Court, the Court will appoint a Children’s Guardian (who will be represented by a Solicitor) to act in the children’s best interests, and request reports from that Guardian as well as Statements and any necessary assessment reports. The Local Authority is under a duty to promote reasonable contact during this time. If a Final Care Order is made at the end of the case, the order will last until the child is 18 unless it is discharged or superseded by another order such as through adoption. The Court now usually takes no more than 26 weeks to complete these cases, so it’s important to get legal advice as soon as possible.
A Supervision Order is an alternative to a Care Order and usually lasts for just 12 months, though can be extended. A Supervision Order will also only be made if a Local Authority can demonstrate that a child is at risk of suffering significant harm and/or has suffered significant harm but will usually only be made if an alternative to Local Authority care or adoption has been identified.
Supervision orders cont’d
The order does not result in parental responsibility being shared between parents and the Local Authority. Instead the Local Authority will advise and assist, offering support and services whilst the order is in force.
Emergency Protection Orders
These orders are severe, short court orders. Courts will only make this order if there is reasonable cause to believe that the child is likely to suffer significant harm if not removed and taken into Local Authority care or if the child does not remain in the accommodation where he/she is being provided treatment. Local Authorities can also apply for this order when assessing a child’s welfare and these enquiries are being prevented following access to the child being unreasonably refused, and when the Local Authority believes that access to the child is urgent.
Special Guardianship orders in Care Proceedings
The court may request assessment of other family members such as grandparents, aunts and uncles. If the court agrees that a child should not remain in parental care, the child may be placed with other family members under Child Arrangements Order or Special Guardianship Orders. These orders grant the holder parental responsibility and confirm that the child should live with that person. Special Guardianship Orders go slightly further, allowing the named carer to make all main decisions relating to that child but without severing the link to the natural parents as would happen with adoption.
A Placement Order authorises Local Authorities to place children with prospective adopters. These orders are usually made at the end of Care proceedings, where a Court decides adoption is in the child’s best interests. At the same time a Court will usually dispense with the parents’ consent to adoption on the basis the child’s welfare requires it.
How we can help:
- We act for, and represent at court, parents, children and family members in these types of cases
- We can usually attend pre-court meetings with parents and offer advice and support
- Our Specialist Team includes members of Resolution, including accredited specialists in child matters and members of the Law Society Children Panel as both adult and child representatives
- We are able to offer preliminary advice and assistance under the Legal Help Scheme subject to eligibility and availability