The court process

If your child’s social worker thinks that you are not able to work with professionals to improve your child’s situation and that your child cannot remain safely at home then they could go to court to try and get a legal order for your child.

1. When a social worker (on behalf of the Children’s Services) applies to court for an order about your child this is normally called ‘care proceedings.

As a parent you will be a party to the proceedingswhich means that you will get copies of all the papers and reports given to the court and you also have the right to be at all the court hearings and put your point of view across. You also have the right to free public finding to pay for a solicitor to go to court with you. Your child will have a Guardian who works for CAFCASS. The Guardian will speak to you and your child, and will give an opinion to the Court about what the best plan is for your child. The Guardian will also ask a solicitor to represent your child in court. You will be asked to go to a 'Interim Care Order Hearing'where the Court will decide where your child should live until a final decision is made, and will also decide what assessments, reports or statements need to happen before the final hearing. The Court may make a temporary care plan and if needed a temporary (interim) order like an Interim Care Order, Interim Residence Order or Interim Supervision Order. The Court may also ask Children’s Services to arrange a Family Group Conference.

2. Try and keep all written documents together, and try and keep all appointments with your solicitor and other professionals – if there is an emergency and you can’t get to an appointment make sure you let the right people know.

It is a good idea to wear smart comfortable clothes for court.  It is also a good idea to keep a written note of conversations with the social worker or other professionals involved with your family. If the Court is concerned about your child there will be other hearings before the final hearing when a final decision is made about planning for your child. There will be a Case Management Hearing within 12 days of the court proceedings starting, and later on an Issues Resolution Hearing  usually between 12 days and 26 weeks of the court proceedings starting. You will normally be asked to prepare a written statement before the issues Resolution Hearing in response to the final proposals of Children’s Services and the children’s Guardian. Your solicitor can help you with this.

3. If it has not been possible to agree a plan for your child during the earlier stages, then final decisions about where your child should live and which court order is best are made at the Final Hearing.

You will be asked to prepare a written statement for this hearing – your solicitor can help you with this, and if you need an interpreter, or any other help like an advocate or large print text, this should be organised by your solicitor.

4. There are several possible final orders the court can make – a Care Order, Supervision Order, Residence Order, Special Guardianship Order, Placement Order or Contact Order.

The court can only make a care or supervision order if there are very serious concerns about your ability to look after your child at the moment, and the threshold criteria is met. The Court also needs to think about the welfare checklist when making a decision about the best Court order for your child – or whether your child would be better with no order.