1. Care proceedings is when Children’s Services asks the court to look at your child’s situation and decide if your child needs a legal order to keep them safe. Your child’s social worker will do this if they think that your child cannot remain safely at home.
2. Before the first court hearing your child’s social worker has to give papers to the court which explain why they are worried about your child.
3. You will be a party to the proceedings. This 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. Information will only be kept away from you if telling you could put another person at risk.
Children’s Services must also give you copies of their main evidence and reports, plus a list of certain other key documents they have on their records so you/your solicitor can ask to see any you haven’t already got. (This might include, for example, records of key discussions with you and your family before the court proceedings started, key minutes of professionals meetings or decisions made on social work files).
4. The Public Law Outline (known as the PLO) is the set of rules that courts and parties must follow about documents and the time table for Care Proceedings. A new pilot version of the PLO is starting between July and October 2013 depending on your court area.
5. If Children’s Services think your child needs to be removed from your care before the final hearing, they will ask the court to make an Interim (temporary) Care Order. In this case there will be a court hearing when this will be decided. You will be able to go to this hearing and argue against it if you wish. At this hearing the court will decide:
• Whether an Interim Care Order should be made
• where your child should live until the final hearing,
• who your child will see until the final hearing and
• what needs to be done and by when before the final hearing. This includes assessments, reports, statements or research into whether there is anyone else who might become a carer for your child – they are known as directions.
6. At this hearing, the Court will look at the interim care plan (temporary care plan) that your child’s social worker has made. Your solicitor will talk to the other solicitors involved in the case and your child’s social worker and Cafcass guardian about your child’s situation. The court will then either agree with the plan for your child presented by the social worker, or a there will be discussion about how it should be changed.
7. If the court agrees at the first appointment that there should be a temporary legal order for your child they could make an Interim Care Order, Interim Residence Order or Interim Supervision Order.
8. The Court may also ask the social worker to refer your family for a Family Group Conference so your family can come up with a plan to keep your child safe.
9. You will also need to go back to court soon afterwards for a Case Management Hearing which should happen within 12 days of children’s Services applying for the Care Order. At this hearing the court will make sure that all the assessments, statements, reports and papers are prepared . It will also look at whether any more information is needed for the final decision to be made.
10. New rules say that parents and relatives must normally make a formal application for any expert evidence to support their case or for any fresh assessments of themselves or anyone else in their family by this date. So it’s crucial to talk to your solicitor and any possible family members who may want to care for your child immediately so that they are formally considered as potential carers by day 12. It is very unlikely that they would be considered after that.
11. There will also be an Issues Resolution Hearing. The court will direct when it must be but it should be in time for the care proceedings to be finished within 26 weeks of the care proceedings starting. This time limit can only be extended if there are really exceptional reasons to justify going over this time limit.
12. At this hearing, the court will see if any agreement can be reached by everybody involved in the case (for example about where your child should live in the long term and/or how much contact your child should have with you). If enough things can be agreed or decided at this hearing there may not need to be a final hearing.
But if the case is going on to a final hearing, then the Issues Resolution Hearing will also make sure that all reports, statements and papers are ready for the final hearing and decide whether any more information is needed.
13. If you and the other people involved in the care proceedings cannot agree a plan for your child during the earlier stages, then there will usually be a Final Hearing.
This final hearing is when long term decisions about future plans for your child including where they should live and which court order is best are made.
You will usually 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.
14. There are several possible final orders the court can make:
- Care Order, which means your child stays in care until they are 18 unless the order is ended before then.
- Supervision Order, which means Children’s Services will supervise the care you are providing to your child.
- Residence Order, which says that your child will live with another person such as a family member or friend for as long as the order exists.
- Special Guardianship Order, which also says your child will live with another person such as a family member but it is a more permanent arrangement because it is more difficult for a parent to apply to end (discharge) a Special Guardianship Order than a Residence Order.
- Placement Order which gives Children’s Services permission to place your child for adoption even if you do not agree and/or
- Contact Order which sets out contact arrangements for your child after the court case has finished.