Children – Public Law

Children and Public Law; a confused child with separated parentsLooking after children can be a challenge to any parents. Sometimes Social Services may become involved with a family if there are concerns about the health and wellbeing of a child or children. If this happens, access to expert legal advice is clearly essential, and we can provide that at Jackson Quinn.

We offer FREE ½ hour initial advice appointments.

We have specialist Solicitors based in Nottingham and across Nottinghamshire who will help and advise you through what can be an extremely distressing time. All of our Child Care Solicitors are members of Resolution and are accredited by the Law Society Children Panel and provide a high level of service.

If there are concerns about a child’s welfare, a Child Protection Conference or Child In Need Conference will take place.  At these meetings all professionals involved with the family including Social Workers, Doctors, Midwives, Health Visitors, Teachers, Police, Drugs workers and the parents can raise and hopefully resolve concerns.  The conference will decide whether to make the children subject to a Child Protection Plan or a Child in Need Plan and the case will then be monitored.  The plan will set out the expectations of the family and the support to be provided to them.

If following a conference the concerns become more serious, the Local Authority will hold a Legal Planning Meeting, and may decide to put the Case into the PLO (Public Law Outline) process.  This means that they are considering issuing proceedings and it is really the parents’ last chance to avoid the matter being brought before the Court.   It is for this reason that it is essential that where Social Services are involved with children, parents do not delay in seeking legal advice.  This is particularly important as under the PLO process the intention is that all proceedings conclude within 26 weeks.  Whilst this may seem like a long time, the reality is that it is a very short period of time for parents to demonstrate that they have addressed the concerns of the Local Authority and are capable of sustaining those changes.

If Court proceedings are issued, an application will be made to the family Court. Legal Aid is available as a matter of right to all parents involved in care proceedings.  This is one area of 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 contact us immediately.

If the Local Authority decide that an urgent hearing is needed to consider whether a child should be removed from the parents care, the matter will be listed with very little notice to the parents, sometimes within a few hours of the application being issued. The Court will consider whether there are reasonable grounds to believe that the child has suffered or is likely to suffer significant harm, and if so will usually make a Care Order. In emergency situations outside office hours we can be contacted on our emergency phone number for advice  – 07765779334.

A Case Management Hearing will be listed no sooner than day 12 and no later than day 18 after issue.  The purpose of the Case Management Hearing is to decide what further information will be required for the Court to make a final decision and then to timetable the case through to an Issues Resolution Hearing.  At the Issues Resolution Hearing the case may conclude or be listed for a Final Hearing.

The timetable set by the Court will provide for each party to file a statement setting out their case. The Court will appoint a Children’s Guardian, a specially qualified child care worker to represent the child and act on their behalf.

The usual sequence for providing the court with information is:-

  1. The Local Authority file their final evidence, including a Care Plan which details their plans for the child
  2. The parents file statements
  3. The Children’s Guardian files their report

When all the information is gathered, the Court must make a decision.

The Court must decide:-

  1. Whether the Local Authority has proved on a balance or probability that the child is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm
  2. If so, whether it is in the best interests of the child to be placed in the care of the Local Authority, or to be returned to the care of the parents or other family members.

The Court has a wide discretion to make any Order in children proceedings, which would include making a Care Order, a Supervision Order, a Child Arrangements Order, a Special Guardianship Order or no Order at all.  An Order will only be made if the child will actually benefit as a result.

In emergency situations the Local Authority can ask the court for an Emergency Protection Order, which will allow them to take a 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 above followed through.

Additionally the Police have powers to protect children which when used enable a child to be placed in foster care for up to 72 hours.  The Local Authority would then apply to court for an order following the process above.

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