In cases where a local authority issues care proceedings for a child, the court will automatically appoint a guardian to represent that child’s best interests.
It is important to note that all child guardians are qualified social workers. They will be employed either by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) or be self-employed. They must be fully trained and have experience working with children and their families. Their role is to represent the rights and best interests of the child involved in the case.
Parents may question why a guardian is necessary and query the reasons why they themselves cannot explain to the court what their own child wants/needs. In reality, the guardian represents the independent voice of the child. Because the guardian is independent of the existing social worker team, the court, the family and any other individuals involved in the case, they can focus fully on ensuring that the child is heard and kept safe whilst always considering their best interests.
What does a guardian in care proceedings do?
The guardian will always work to achieve the best possible outcome for the child involved. Initially, they will appoint a solicitor who specialises in working with children and families. They will additionally advise the court on what needs to be done in order to come to a final decision in the case.
A guardian will spend time getting to know the child and their family in order to do this. They may also talk to relatives and friends of the family as well as the child’s teachers, foster carers, health visitors and any previous social worker. Meetings with the child will often take place at the school and do not require parental consent.
The guardian will attend any meetings on behalf of the child, check records and read relevant reports and statements. They could also recommend other professionals that may be helpful to the child, such as a psychiatrist or medical doctor.
It is also the guardian’s job to scrutinise any Local Authority assessments and evidence concerning the child, identify any missing information or gaps, and decide how these issues can be rectified. They will also always ensure the child is safe and the Local Authorities care plan meets that child’s needs.
Before a final case hearing, the guardian will prepare an analysis of the child’s circumstances. This will be in the form of a detailed report that weighs up the child’s options and considers their feelings and wishes. They may also prepare a report for the first hearing; however, this isn’t always possible for more urgent cases.
There’s no doubt that guardians in care proceedings perform a vital role in ensuring a child’s interests are represented independently and fairly.