Answers to some common questions on Child Protection and Care Proceedings in England and Wales, brought to you by Battrick Clark Solicitors of Bristol.
Social services want me to go to a Child protection Conference. What does this mean?
A Child Protection Conference is called when social workers have concerns about the welfare of your child/children and want to explore with representatives from health/education/police and their own social work team what can be done to help the family and safeguard the children. It is important that you engage fully with this process and with any plan put in place by the conference as failure to work with professionals where there are problems can lead to further intervention in the form of a pre-proceedings process or court proceedings. The aim of the conference is to help and support your family and to safeguard your children. Lawyers cannot take part in these meetings but we are able to advise and give support through this process; depending on your financial circumstance. You may be entitled to free legal advice under the Legal Help scheme. We can help you with this.
I have a letter from social services saying I have to come to a meeting about my children or they will go to court. Can you help?
The letter you have received is likely to be a “pre-proceedings” letter. The aim of the pre-proceedings process, which can last around 6 months, is to give you a chance to understand the concerns the local authority have about your parenting, to work with the social work team, and if possible to avoid the matter going to court. You are entitled to legal aid for this process regardless of your income. Please call so that we can guide you through this process. It is important that you do not ignore this letter.
Social Services want me to agree to my child going into foster care or they will go to court. What shall I do?
Sometimes when people are going through a crisis they find they are unable to care for their children and may ask the local authority for help in the form of the children being accommodated in foster care on a temporary basis. Sometimes social workers may suggest to parents that this is needed. The Statutory provision which enables this is Section 20 of the Children Act 1989. Children can only be accommodated in this way if the parent agrees. You can withdraw your consent at any time and, ask for your child to return home. If the Local authority do not feel immediate return is best for your child, they may issue court proceedings for a care order, or they may seek to continue to work with you under a pre-proceedings process (see above). This is a difficult situation. We have experienced solicitors who can help. Please call us.
The police have removed my children. Can they do this?
The police have the right to exercise their powers of protection under Section 46 of the Children Act 1989 and remove children where they believe that otherwise they would be likely to suffer significant harm. They will work with the Local Authority and move the children to foster care. Children can only be kept in police protection for 72 hours. After this they must be returned home, or the Local Authority must take the matter to court.
If the police have taken your children, you need to get urgent legal advice. We have experienced solicitors who can help in this situation. Please get in touch.
What is an EPO?
An EPO is an Emergency Protection Order. The Local authority will ask the court to grant this where they believe they need to assume parental responsibility. Usually this means they want to remove children from home urgently in order to protect them. This may also happen when the police have already removed the children under their Powers of Protection (see above) and it is not considered safe for the children to return home.
An EPO gives the Local authority parental responsibility for a child, and allows the authority to keep the child away from home if the court sanctions this. It lasts for only 8 days initially, after which it can be renewed, or an Interim Care Order can be made (see below).
What is a Care Order?
A Care Order might be made by the court at the end of Care Proceedings. An Interim Care Order (ICO) is made during the course of the proceedings. Both allow the applicant Local Authority to share parental responsibility with a child’s parents; and if this is sanctioned by the court, it allows a local authority to remove a child from its parents’ care. The Local Authority must satisfy the court that there are sufficient grounds for this order to be granted. There is a threshold set down in the Children Act S31, and legal tests which must be met and evidenced, before the court can make such a serious order. If you are in this situation, you need urgent legal advice. We have solicitors in our team who are very experienced in these types of proceedings. Please contact us so that we can help you.
Will I get legal aid/how much will it cost?
Legal Aid is available on a non-means / non-merits basis for parents or anyone with parental responsibility for children who are the subjects of pre-proceedings meetings or applications for Emergency Protection Orders or Care Orders. You need urgent legal advice if you are in these situations.
Social services are worried about my grandchildren. Can I look after them?
If social services are concerned about the welfare of children in the care of their parents, or care proceedings are commenced or contemplated, the local authority has a duty to consider whether there are any placements in the children’s immediate family, e.g. with grandparents, aunts or uncles, etc. that could meet the children’s needs. If you are a relative and want to fulfil this care role, you need to make contact with the children’s social worker; or the children’s parents can put you forward as potential carers. If you need legal advice in the course of proceedings, the local authority will sometimes pay for you to get some initial legal advice. Your eligibility for legal aid will depend on whether the children already live with you and you have parental responsibility, or on your means if this is not the case. Please get in touch, as our experienced team can help you with this.