If concerns have been raised about the welfare of a child, the local authority (social services) can decide to issue care proceedings. And regardless of whether these concerns are justified or not, it can prove to be a very stressful and worrying time for parents.
What is vital to remember is that care proceedings are issued in the best interests of the child/ren of the family, and everyone involved has the same priority: to ensure the health, happiness, and wellbeing of the child and to protect the child from harm or the risk of harm.
Despite this, care proceedings can still be an upsetting experience, and many parents naturally want to keep the situation as low key and informal as possible to prevent further stress or further upset to the child. At National Legal Service, we know that many parents in this situation prefer to take a ‘wait and see’ approach, particularly if they are confident that there are no reasonable grounds to remove the child from the home.
However, as a parent, you are entitled to free legal advice and representation for care proceedings (regardless of your financial circumstances), and we highly recommend that this professional support is secured as early as possible.
Why Accept Legal Support?
Situations relating to a child’s wellbeing are taken very seriously, and as such care proceedings can be remarkably complex. Not only are there a number of different orders that can be granted – including care orders, supervision orders, special guardianship orders, and family assistance orders – but there are also a whole host of complicated terms used in these cases, such as ‘contested removal’ and ‘settlement conference’. It’s enough to overwhelm the most composed of parents.
- Care Order gives parental responsibility to the local authority, enabling them to make decisions. In some cases, children may be placed with a foster family, although they may also be placed into the care of other family members.
- Supervision Order does not give parental responsibility to the local authority, but does enable them to be involved in decisions made regarding the child. It is designed as a way for the local authority to befriend and assist the family. The child will usually be kept within the family if this order is made.
- Special Guardianship Order shares parental responsibility between the parent and an appointed guardian, who are expected to make decisions for the child together. This order is often given when the child lives with extended family/close friends that have been positively assessed.
The concern with parents feeling overwhelmed by the ins and outs of care proceedings is that they may be feeling very nervous or anxious in court, and may not be able to represent themselves in the best light, or properly communicate their views. In our vast experience of care proceedings, we’ve seen how many decisions are made during the initial hearings, and so we fully believe that having a strong start is key to driving the right outcome. Seeking early advice and support is essential.
While you are the child’s parent (or main carer), the court can – and will – make the decision to remove the child from your care if they have reasonable grounds to believe that the child is at risk should they remain within in the same environment, and they can make these decisions very rapidly.
One very common problem that we see is that there is sometimes a notable discrepancy between what parents and what judges consider to be ‘reasonable grounds’. What is important to keep in mind is that courts will not take any risks where children are involved, and will often err on the side of caution. By ensuring you’re represented in court accurately from the start, you’re giving yourself the best chance to get your views across, and share your own feelings about the welfare of your child.
Support From National Legal Service
At National Legal Service, we’re proud to have a strong and highly dedicated team of specialist family solicitors who are ready to accept instruction at short notice and provide all necessary support to worried parents right from the very start of care proceedings. Experienced in working closely on a daily basis with families and children with social workers, we understand the challenges faced when communicating with various professionals involved in this decision making.
Having worked in family law for many years, we believe that the most vital piece of information that all parents should know is just how important it is to accept the support that is available for legal guardians during care proceedings, along with how important it is to seek this support during the early stages of the process. Even in situations in which you are confident that there is no risk to the child, or in situations which appear to be proceeding well, circumstances can change very quickly and being prepared is key.