Local Authority involvement – Court Proceedings
Where the local authority remain concerned about your child, they can apply to the court for permission to take your child into care or to share responsibility so they can make decisions about your child.
You will be informed by the social worker if the local authority are deciding to go to court and you must see an experienced child care solicitor straightaway. The local authority may not give you much information about the court process, however your solicitor would contact them straightaway and ask for the relevant paperwork so that they can advise you before the first court hearing.
You will be a party to the proceedings and will be given copies of all papers and report given to the court, your solicitor will consider the paperwork with you. Your child and any other parent involved in the care of the child will also be a party, your child will be represented by a Guardian appointed by the court who will also have a solicitor. The Guardian’s role is to look after the child’s interest.
The court aims to make a decision about what is going to happen to your child within 26 weeks of the application being made (about six months).
During the proceedings there will be investigations to understand the reasons why a child may be at risk and what can be done to keep them safe. Assessments are likely to be directed by the court involving the parents and carers to help the court decide whether a child can return home or whether they should stay in care. These assessments will be carried out by specialist experts who you will have the opportunity to choose by the assistance of your solicitor. Assessments of other family members or friends who may be suitable carers if a child does not return home will also be considered.
There are various stages and hearings involved in the court process and it is best that you cooperate and also liaise very closely with your solicitor who will assist you throughout the process.
An important hearing during the court process is the Issues Resolution Hearing when the court will see if any agreement can be reached by everybody involved in the case as to your child, namely where the child should live. If an agreement can be reached at this hearing, then a final hearing will need to take place.
At the final hearing the court will have to make decisions about future plans for your child including where they should live and which court order needs to be made. The court will normally hear verbal evidence from the parties, local authority and any experts before making its final decision about your child.
The outcome of the proceedings will usually be one of the following :
- Your child will stay at home
- Your child will live with a relative in the child’s extended family
- Your child will live with a foster parent (being fostered)
- Your child will be adopted
There are several possible final orders the court can make:
- Care Order – where your child stays in local authority care until they are 18 unless the order is ended before then.
- Supervision Order – where the local authority will supervise the care you are providing to your child for a specific period.
- Child Arrangements Order as to where the child will live – which will set out that your child will live with you or another person such as a family member or friend for as long as the order exists.
- Special Guardianship Order – which will set that your child will live with another person such as a family member and that person can exercise parental responsibility for the child to the exclusion of any other person with parental responsibility apart from another special guardian
- Placement Order –which gives the local authority permission to place your child for adoption even if you do not agree
- Child Arrangements Order as to contact with a child – which sets out contact arrangements for your child after the court case has finished.