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Understanding Care Proceedings: What to Expect

Our People - Jalpa Vadgama
5 July, 2024

Care proceedings are a complex legal process that involve social services and the court working together to ensure the safety and well-being of a child. It’s important to remember that you are not alone. Throughout this process, you have the right to free legal aid if you are a parent or have parental responsibility for the child. 

The Key Stages to Care Proceedings

Application to the Court

The process starts with social services filing an application to the Family Court. This application will request a care order or a supervision order of a child.

  • A care order grants the local authority parental responsibility for a child.
  • A supervision order allows social services to be involved in your child’s life but keeps parental responsibility with you.

Instructing a Solicitor

You are entitled to free legal aid if you are a parent or have parental responsibility for the child to instruct a solicitor who will represent you throughout the proceedings.  They can advise you on your options, answer your questions, and ensure your voice is heard in court.

First Hearing: Interim Care Order or Interim Supervision Order 

If children’s services believes a child should be removed from a parents care before the final hearing, the local authority will ask the court for a an interim care order. The court will decide at this hearing:

  • Whether to grant an interim care order.
  • With whom the child should live with until the final hearing.
  • Who will have contact with the child until the final hearing.

If the court agrees, children’s services can take a child into care on a temporary basis for up to 8 weeks at first. This order can be extended.

Case Management Hearing (CMH)

The first court hearing is called a Case Management Hearing (CMH). Here, the judge will decide how the case will progress. This may involve:

  • Identifying key issues.
  • Identifying the key issues.
  • Identifying the evidence necessary to enable the court to resolve the key issues.
  • Ordering assessments.
  • Setting deadlines for all parties involved to submit written evidence to the court.

At the Case Management Hearing, the judge may order one or more of the following assessments to help them understand the situation better:

  • Physical Assessment: This assessment focuses on your child’s physical health and development, and may include examinations by a doctor or other healthcare professional.
  • Parenting Assessment: This assessment evaluates your ability to care for your child’s physical and emotional needs. It may involve interviews with you, your family members, and potentially your child’s caregivers.
  • Psychiatric Assessments: This assessment aims to determine if you have any diagnosable mental health conditions. If so, the assessment will recommend appropriate treatment and support services.
  • Psychological assessment: A better understanding of your psychological well-being may help children’s services or the court when making decisions about a child’s care. It may inform the level and nature of any support that will be given to a parent.
  • Drugs and/or Alcohol Testing: These tests may be ordered if there are concerns about your substance abuse.

Issues Resolution Hearing (IRH)

The purpose of this hearing is to see if the care proceedings can be concluded early. If this is not possible, the purpose is to identify and narrow the issues for determination at a final hearing. The court will make case management directions, so the matter is ready for a final hearing.

Final Hearing

If an agreement cannot be reached, the case will proceed to a final hearing. The court will decide whether a care order or a supervision order is needed to protect a child. If the court decides that a court order is required in the circumstances, final decisions will be made about who a child will live with and contact arrangements for parents and extended family.

There are several possible final orders the court can make including:

  • Care Order: Local authority gain parental responsibility for the child and the child becomes looked-after until the age of 18.
  • Supervision Order: Local authority are granted the power to monitor the child’s needs whilst the child lives at home or elsewhere.
  • Special Guardianship Order: An order that places a child to live with someone other than their parent on a long-term basis. This order lasts until a child is 18 years old, unless the order is discharged before then. The person who has been granted the special guardianship order will have parental responsibility for the child.
  • Placement Order: The court provide permission to the local authority to place a child for adoption even if the child’s parents do not provide consent. 

Contact a Specialist Care Proceedings Solicitor

If you are facing care proceedings, it’s crucial to seek legal advice from a qualified solicitor specialising in children law. Our dedicated Family Law Solicitors can guide you through the process, ensure your rights are protected, and represent you in court. Please feel free to contact our specialist Care Proceedings Solicitors or call us on 020 8492 2290.

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