Understanding Viability Assessments in Care Proceedings

Understanding Viability Assessments in Care Proceedings

Viability Assessments

In a nutshell, a viability assessment is usually undertaken at the beginning of care proceedings to determine whether a family member or friend put forward by a parent, is able to meet the needs of the child/children as an alternative carer to the parent(s).

Once the local authority issue care proceedings or just before, during the PLO process, they ask the parents if there is anyone they would like to put forward to care for the child, in the event that the court decides parents cannot care for their child. The local authority then assesses the people that are put forward.  This assessment is called an initial screening assessment or a viability assessment.

These assessments include initial contact from the social worker to the prospective carer. This telephone or visit leads to an initial determination as to whether that person may or may not be capable of caring for the child. These assessments are not entirely comprehensive, but they do look at various matters.  This includes matters that relate to the welfare of the child such as the individual’s living situation, whether they are financially stable, what they knew about the proceedings so far and if they know how to care for a child. The assessment also evaluates their parenting ability and their support network. Preliminary checks are carried out with the local authority in which that person lives, and also medical and police checks are done.

At the end of this assessment, the local authority makes recommendations. These are either positive or negative. If the initial assessment is positive, then they are recommended for a full connected persons assessment or special guardianship assessment. If the assessment is negative, the local authority let the person know and they are given a timeline within which they can challenge the assessment. This timeline is given to prevent delay in the proceedings later on.

We encourage our parent clients to put suitable family or friends forward at the beginning of proceedings, especially if the care plan is likely to be adoption or long-term foster care. It’s important that this is done at the start of the proceedings, as the Children Act 1989 is clear that delay in the care proceedings is not good for a child. This gives the person put forward time to challenge the assessment if it is negative. If it’s positive, then a detailed assessment is completed, which usually takes 13 weeks to prepare.

A misconception is that parents only need to put forward an alternative carer if and when their own assessment is not positive. This is incorrect. The assessments of a parent and alternative carers are done at the same time. This is known as parallel planning.

There are some cases where putting alternative carers forward in the middle of proceedings can also be allowed by the court. This could be if the final care plan is for the child not to remain with their parents and no one was put forward previously. There could be a change of circumstances that were not known previously.

There are some important factors that we need to take into consideration when putting alternative carers forward in the middle of the proceedings, as not all judges will be open to this. This applies to challenging negative viability assessments after the deadlines as well.  Some of these factors are highlighted in the case of L & Ors (Children: care proceedings) [2017] EWHC 2081 (Fam) (05 May 2017).

  • It is important that the assessment does not cause unnecessary further delay to the proceedings,
  • The alternative carers put forward must be suitable and able to care for children,
  • The alternative carer must be aware that they are being put forward to care for the children,
  • There must be a realistic prospect of the person being assessed positively as a carer for the children.

In all cases, the judge’s main priority is the welfare of the children and ensuring their best interests are taken into consideration. This meant no unnecessary delay, even if that meant, they were going to be placed for adoption.

The expectation is that viability assessments should take place as early in proceedings as possible in order to avoid delay. The advice we give to our clients is in line with this case:

  • Provide details of alternative carers as early as possible in the case.
  • Make sure you have spoken to that individual and that they understand that they will be assessed as a long-term carer. Often, clients may think it’s just a temporary arrangement but that’s incorrect. The assessment is to see if they can be long-term alternative carers.
  • Think about the suitability of that individual.
  • What relationship does that individual have with you and your child?
  • Finally, even if it’s part way through the case if there may be someone else who you think should be assessed at the same time you are, give their details to your solicitor and they can advise you what to do.

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