Jackson Quinn can advise you in relation to Social Services involvement, and have specialist solicitors who will help and assist you through what can be an extremely distressing time.
‘Public Law’ in relation to children matters means the involvement of a Local Authority in proceedings relating to a child or children. This usually takes the form of an application to take a child into care or to put a child under the supervision of the Local Authority.
When the Children Act was introduced in 1989, it completely reviewed and revised the previous arrangements relating to the involvement of the Local Authority (the County Council, City Council or the Metropolitan Borough Council) in family and children matters.
The Children Act switched the focus onto the best interests of the child. This was coupled with the idea that the Local Authority (usually via the Social Services Department) should be as supportive as possible in keeping the child within the family unit, and that Court proceedings for a care or supervision Order should only be taken as a last resort.
By and large the same has been successful. There are still however some cases where Social Workers decide that they can no longer work with the parents, and then Court proceedings are commenced.
Under normal circumstances, a Child Protection Conference will take place. This is a forum for all involved people, including Social Workers, Health Visitors, Doctors, Teachers, Police and of course Parents to raise and hopefully resolve concerns. The conference will usually decide whether to place a child on the Child Protection Register, and also where Court proceedings should be started.
It may well be that, following the Conference, it is agreed that the situation will be monitored rather than proceedings be commenced. If however proceedings are to be taken, the application must be made to a Family Proceedings Court. This is a division of the Magistrates Court, staffed by specially trained Magistrates and official which takes place at the Magistrates Court. The initial hearing will be relatively short, and will decide whether an interim Care order should be made. The Court will do this if there are reasonable grounds to believe that a child is suffering significant harm, and in general the Court will usually take a very cautious approach to this area and will almost certainly make such an Order. The Court will also consider whether the case should be transferred to a more specialist Court. This will happen in cases where for instance the issue is complicated by medical evidence. If an interim Care order is made, the first Order may last for up to 56 days, but usually they will be stated to last for 28 days. After this period, the Order must be renewed by the Court, either r by a further hearing or by all parties agreeing in writing to the renewal.
It is then the Courts job to obtain the relevant information to decide this case. The Court will in due course set a time table to allow each party to have their say by filing a detailed statement. The Court will also appoint a Children’s Guardian, a specially qualified child care worker to represent the child and to act on their behalf.
The usual sequence for providing the Court with information is:-
- The Local Authority file their evidence, including a care plan which details their proposals for the child
- The parents file statements
- The Children’s Guardian files their report
When all the information is gathered, the Court must make a decision. The Court must decide:-
- Whether the Local Authority has proved on balance that the child is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm
- If so, whether it is in the best interests of he child to be placed in the care of the Local Authority
The Court has a wide discretion to make any Order in children proceedings, which would including make a Care order, a Supervision Order, a Residence Order or in fact Order at all. It is a fundamental principle of the Children Act that an Order will only be made if the child will actually benefit as a result.
In emergency circumstances, the Local Authority can ask the Court for an Emergency Protection Order, which will allow them to take the child to a place of safety. Such an Order can only last for 8 days but can be renewed on further application to the Court. During those 8 days, a Child Protection Conference will normally be held and the procedure outlined above will then be followed through.
Legal Aid is available as a matter of right to all parents involved in care proceedings. This is one area of the law where there is no assessment of financial eligibility for Legal Aid. It is therefore essential that if you believe you may be involved in care proceedings, you must contact us immediately.
Jackson Quinn are very experienced in dealing with public law children issues, and many of our solicitors have been Accredited by the Law Society as specialists in dealing with these type of cases.