All Local Authorities have a duty to safeguard and protect the welfare of children. If the Local Authority is concerned that your child is not being properly looked after or is out of control they may start Care Proceedings to ask a Court to decide whether your child should be taken into care or be placed with an alternative member of your family.
How Will I know Care Proceedings Have Been Started?
Unless it is an emergency, your Local Authority will send you a letter, setting out the concerns which they have about the care being given to your child. Every situation is different, but reasons might include your lifestyle – if you have problems with alcohol or drugs or are in an abusive relationship for example, or it may be due to issues with your child’s health or because they are absent from school without reasonable excuse. The letter should also explain what you need to do to stop the Authority going to Court.
The Local Authority will ask you attend a meeting to discuss the situation further. This is called a Pre-Proceedings Meeting and you are able to attend that meeting with a solicitor. It is recommended that you take a solicitor with experience in Child Care Proceedings with you to the meeting. Your solicitor will be able to represent your interests, and explain the processes involved to you. Your solicitor will also make sure that the Local Authority is following the correct procedures.
Will My Child Definitely Be Taken Into Care?
No. Normally the Local Authority will only apply to the Court to place your child into Care as the last step. At the Pre-Proceedings Meeting you will have the opportunity to discuss how you may be able to change the way you look after your child and how the Local Authority can support this. You should also be told at that time what you need to do to prevent the Local Authority from applying to the Court for a Care Order. Any changes may be written into a formal agreement. If you do not agree to make any changes, your Local Authority may ask the Court for a Care Order to take your child into Care.
What Happens If I Don’t Go To The Meeting?
If you do not attend the meeting your Local Authority will most likely apply to the Court to start Care Proceedings.
Is Funding Available If I Can’t Afford A Solicitor?
Legal Aid is usually available in Care Proceedings cases. Our family co-ordinator will be able to explain what funding may be available to you.
What Happens If The Court Decides To Place My Child Into Temporary Care?
Your child may not live with you and the Local Authority would be given Parental Responsibility for your child. The Court will also decide how and when you and other family members such as brothers and sisters can see the child. These are called contact arrangements. If you do not agree with the contact arrangements, your solicitor will able to help you apply to the Court for alternative arrangements.
Could Someone In My Family Look After My Child?
This could be an option if you are having difficulty looking after your child and the Local Authority should consider your request. You should think about who might be able to look after your child for you. The arrangement can be temporary, or it can be made more permanent if the Court grants an Order, normally a ‘Residence Order’ or ‘Special Guardianship Order’ saying who your child will live with. If this is the case, that person would then share Parental Responsibility for your child for as long as the Order lasts. They would be able to make decisions about how your child is raised.
How Can I Get My Child Back Living With Me?
If your child is under a Care Order and no longer living with you, you can apply to the Court to discharge or end the Care Order. You will need to demonstrate that you have made significant changes to your situation and provide reassurances that there are no longer any risks to the child’s welfare. A solicitor will be able to prepare your case for you, but you will not automatically get Legal Aid for this.
Emergency Protection Orders
An Emergency Protection Order (or an EPO as it is sometimes referred to), is made when a child is in immediate danger and needs to be removed from that situation straight away. This might be because someone has contact the police with concerns that the child is being hurt or neglected, or if the child has told someone such as a teacher that they are being hurt. The Emergency Protection Order lasts for eight days but it can be extended. Parents are usually allowed to see the child during this time, but it may be a supervised visit. It is usually Children’s Services who apply for an Emergency Protection Order, but any adult may do so if they believe a child is in danger.
Police Protection Orders
A Police Protection Order (or a PPO) is made when the child is at immediate significant danger and needs to be removed from that situation straight away. This is an Order is made by the police and will last for 72 hours. There is no need for the police to apply to the Court for that Order due to the emergency nature of it but they will have to apply to the Court to have it renewed after the 72 hour time period. Usually the Local Authority will become involved immediately once a Police Protection Order has been issued and as soon as possible they will apply to the Court for an Interim Care Order. When a Police Protection Order has been issued, the child is usually taken into immediate police protection and depending on the circumstances, you may not be able to see that child until the matter has been before the Court.
What To Do Next
Hegarty Solicitors are specialists in Care Proceedings and are Members of Resolution. If you have received a letter from your Local Authority with regards to Care Proceedings or an application for a Care Order, or if your child has been removed as a result of an Emergency Protection Order or Police Protection Order, one of our experienced family law solicitors will be able to advise you on what to do next.
Alternatively if you are a family member and wish to receive legal advice in relation to Special Guardianship Orders or Residence Orders then we are also able to assist on where you stand legally and the options available to you.