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Children and Social Services FAQ

Below are answers to some of the questions we are most frequently asked. Click on a question to jump to the answer.

What are care proceedings?

If the Local Authority believes that a child may be suffering serious harm, or is likely to suffer serious harm, they can apply to the court for a Care Order.

If your child is subject to care proceedings by Social Services it is critical that you contact a solicitor as soon as possible.

The proceedings will involve a Child Protection Case Conference where you will be invited to meet with various professionals to discuss the case. These may include Doctors, Social workers, Teachers and any agencies involved with your child.

During a case conference you can be represented by a solicitor who will advise you and help you to understand the proceedings.

The aim of a case conference is to ascertain whether arrangements can be made for the care of your child without the need for a Care Order being made by the court. Social services cannot take any action that you do not agree with without obtaining the court’s permission.

Your child will be represented by a court appointed guardian from CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service). The guardian does not work for Social Services and their job is to represent your child’s best interests.

The process can go through a number of steps, eventually resulting in a Care Order being made in relation to your child’s ongoing care. The type of order made will depend on the circumstances of the case. An explanation of some of the different types of Care Order’s is outlined later on this page.

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What factors does the court take into account?

The child’s welfare is always of paramount importance in care proceedings. The court will take into account the following factors:

  • The wishes and feelings of the child. These will be judged in the light of his or her age and understanding of the situation.
  • The physical, emotional and educational needs of the child.
  • The likely effect of any change in circumstances on the child.
  • Any harm the child has suffered or is judged to be at risk of suffering.
  • The child’s age, sex, background and any relevant characteristics the child may have.
  • How capable the child’s parents (or other relevant parties) are of meeting the child’s needs.
  • The range of powers available to the court.

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What are the common types of court orders relating to children?

The Local Authority could leave the child living at home with the parents, or with other relatives. Alternatively, they could asses that the child should be placed with foster carers or be placed in a children’s home. It is also possible for the child to be placed with potential adopters, although the child could not be adopted with the court making an Adoption Order.

Care Orders enable the Local Authority to share Parental Responsibility for a child, which means that they are involved in making important decisions regarding the child’s upbringing, such as where they live and who they live with.

A Care Order will normally last until a child is 18 years old although you can apply for a discharge of a Care Order before then.

Below are some of the common Court Orders available:

Supervision Order

A Supervision Order places a child under the supervision of the Local Authority although it does not grant them Parental Responsibility. This usually means that the child is not taken into care and remains with the parents, but is supervised by Social Services to make sure they are well cared for.

Residence Order

A Residence Order sets out the arrangements for where the child lives and who looks after them. Residence Orders are often made in care proceedings instead of Care Orders where a child goes to live with a relative. It would give that person Parental Responsibility for the period of the order.

Contact Order

A Contact Order sets out who can see the child, for instance if they are not returning to live with the parents. Contact Orders can be made in respect of parents, brothers and sisters, grandparents, other relatives and friends. Contact is always judged on the basis of what is best for the child.

Placement Order

A Placement Order gives authority to a Local Authority to place a child with prospective adopters. It can only be made in relation to a child who is the subject of a Care Order or where the threshold criteria for a Care Order are satisfied.

Parental consent to the Placement Order may be dispensed with by the Court on the grounds that either the parent is incapable of giving consent; or that the welfare of the child requires the consent to be dispensed with.

Further legal proceedings are required before the court can make an Adoption Order.

Adoption Order

An Adoption Order transfers Parental Responsibility for the child from the birth parents and others who had Parental Responsibility, including the Local Authority, permanently to the adopter(s). An Adoption Order can be made where the Court agrees that adoption is in the best interests of the child and Parental consent to adoption has been given or dispensed with by the Court.

Emergency Protection Order (EPO)

An Emergency Protection Order can be applied for where there is an immediate risk of significant harm to a child. A Local Authority would normally make the application, although the NSPCC, a police officer or any other person can apply for an EPO.

An EPO will enable a child to be removed to other accommodation or to remain in a place where they are being safely accommodated (e.g. a hospital or foster placement).

Special Guardianship Order (SGO)

A Special Guardianship Order offers an additional option for children needing permanent care outside their birth family. It can offer greater security without severing ties permanently from the birth family, as in adoption.

Special Guardians will have Parental Responsibility for the child. A Special Guardianship Order will replace the Care Order and the Local Authority will no longer have Parental Responsibility.

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How is a Care Order ended or discharged?

Someone with Parental Responsibility can ask the court to discharge a Care Order. The court will only agree if it is shown that there has been a real change in circumstances since the order was made.

The person applying for the Care Order to be ended will have to show the court that it is in the child’s best interests. The court will then look at any current risk to the child.

The court may decide to replace the Care Order with a Supervision Order, which means the Local Authority will no longer have parental responsibility for the child but will supervise how the child is cared for instead.

If the court discharges the Care Order, the person with parental responsibility will take over caring for the child.

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Can I get legal aid for child care matters?

If you receive either a ‘letter before proceedings’ or a court notice, it is very important that you see a solicitor to get some legal advice immediately. As a parent you will not have to pay your solicitor. Parents and other people with parental responsibility involved in care proceedings can get legal aid to pay their solicitor’s fees. You can get this however much income or capital you have.

Legal aid pays for what is known as Level 2 advice and should cover the cost of negotiating with the council as well as court proceedings. Your solicitor will set up the public funding for you.

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Information on Adoption

Legally, adoption removes all the birth family’s rights and responsibilities and transfers them to the adoptive family.

There are numerous different circumstances which can lead to adoption.  Children may be adopted as part of child care proceedings brought by a Local Authority. Examples of "private adoption" include step-parents wishing to adopt step-children, and grandparents or other family members wishing to adopt a child whose parents have died or are unable to care for them. 

Step-parent adoption has become less common as the courts often decide that other arrangements are more suitable, such as joint residence orders which give the step-parent Parental Responsibility and all the rights of a parent.

For step-parent adoption to have a chance of success certain requirements must be met which include the fact that they must be married and able to show that they have a stable and durable relationship. These are pre-requisites to satisfying the investigations which will be carried out by the courts and Social Services during the adoption process.

Norrie Waite & Slater are experienced in all types of adoption cases. Our lawyers will make an application to the courts where it will be considered whether the proposed adoption is in the best interests of the child based on the information and reports presented to the Judge.

Contact us to arrange a consultation with one of our child care lawyers.

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