The advice you need should be pertinent to the issues and focused on achieving the best outcome for you and your family. We represent parents, grandparents and children, and others in all areas of children’s law and specialise in proceedings involving Social Services. It is always extremely worrying when a Social Worker tells you they are worried about your child, or there are issues raised of neglect or abuse. At that time you need expert sensible advice. We are known for our commitment to our clients, and for never losing sight of what is important to them. We are there to help you through the process.
Our experienced team is acknowledged as amongst the leaders in the field and we have dealt with a wide range of cases including non-accidental injury, sexual abuse, radicalisation, issues of substance misuse, factitious illness, and neglect. With our knowledge of international law we are known as one of the few teams who are able to deal with complex cases involving not just child protection but also jurisdictional issues. We are known for our advocacy and have experience at representing clients at every level of Court. Our team have successfully represented our clients in a wide range of cases, and are rarely if ever daunted.
The quality of legal advice provided by Freemans Solicitors is always to a high standard as recognised within the legal community and amongst our clients.
We have set out below a number of frequently asked questions which hopefully will assist you. Please use this form if we can assist you further.
Such a letter needs to be taken seriously as that is an indication that Social Services are considering taking protective measures which may result in Court proceedings involving your child. You should take a Solicitor with you. It is sensible to get in touch with a solicitor in advance of the meeting so that your lawyer knows your case and can advise you as well as represent you properly and effectively at the meeting. Often the social worker will be hoping to agree on a plan that will avoid proceedings. This could include the instruction of experts such as psychiatrists and psychologists. Your solicitor will have input into the expert and questions that are asked.
Agreeing for your child to be in foster care is a serious step and you should seek legal advice. You will usually be asked to sign a section 20 agreement which is a contract with Social Services in which you delegate some parental responsibility temporarily to the Local Authority so they can look after your child in foster care without a Court Order. It is not supposed to be a permanent or even long term agreement. If it any stage you are not happy with your child remaining in Local Authority care, you can withdraw your agreement. In that situation the Local Authority either have to return your child to or issue an application to Court.
As a parent in these proceedings, you are entitled to have your say and to be legally represented with your fees being met by the State under the Legal Aid scheme irrelevant of your financial circumstances.
When care proceedings are issued, the child or children involved are always represented by an independent person known as a Guardian (employed by an agency known as Cafcass). They will instruct a lawyer for the child and the two professionals will work together to make sure that an independent voice focusing on the welfare needs of the child will be heard. The guardian usually has a social work background and the solicitor is usually a member of the Law society children Panel. Guardians will usually investigate and provide an analysis for the Court, which the Courts need to take seriously.
The Court process should take no more than 26 weeks. In some circumstances, the Court process concludes a lot quicker than this however when there is a complicated background to your case or there is lots of experts assessment required, then cases can take longer. In very complex cases concerning non-accidental injuries or sexual abuse, the Court may list a fact-finding hearing. This could mean a trial which lasts for several days which you and the other parties along with experts will be asked to give evidence.
If your children are placed in foster care, then the Local Authority have a duty to promote contact. In most circumstances, it is likely that the level of contact you have with your child will not be enough. Usually contact can take place several times a week but rarely on a daily basis even if your child is extremely young.
At the start of proceedings, the Court will ask if there are any family members who would wish to be assessed. In some circumstances, family members can be an alternative to foster care so it is extremely important that these family members are put forward as soon as possible. The Local Authority will then have to carry out a viability assessment which can lead on to other fuller assessments, including Special Guardianship assessments. As all of these take time it is important family members who could look after your children if you cannot are identified early so that they can be assessed and ready to step in if for any reason you cannot look after your children.
As a parent, you will automatically have a parenting assessment, usually carried out by a social worker. There may be other assessments asked for whether it is drug or alcohol testing or of a psychiatric nature. As all families are different so are the various assessment. All those involved in the proceedings will have a say on the type of assessments but other than the parenting assessment it is for the Court to decide.
At final hearing, the Court will consider whether the Local Authority has made out the threshold upon which they base their application to Court. The Court will be asked to consider what final Orders are made. The Local Authority may seek a final Care Order or final Supervision Order. In some circumstances, the Local Authority may seek No Orders at all and arrangements may be made for the placement of a child either back at home under private law Orders such as a Child Arrangements Order or with family members. In those circumstances, a non-resident parent may seek orders setting out the contact that you have with your child.
If at the time of filing the Local Authority’s final evidence they do not support the return of the child to its biological family and are considering adoption, then the Local Authority will have to issue a Placement Application. A Placement Order is not an Adoption Order and this will come at a later stage.
You will be advised at the outcome of any final hearing as to the merits of appeal. An appeal can only be made if a Judge has made a decision that is wrong in law; it cannot simply be made because you disagree with the outcome of the hearing. You need to move swiftly as there is a time limit on applications to appeal.
You cannot make an application within the first 6 months of a Care Order being made and you may be advised to wait longer. If you wish to apply to discharge a final Care Order or a Special Guardianship Order, then you must first apply to Court for permission to do so. You will only be given permission if you can show there has been a significant change in circumstances. Any application to discharge a Care Order is usually for children who have been placed in long term foster care, as it is extremely difficult to set aside an Adoption Order (although you can oppose this Order being made in the first place).
Legal Aid funding is available for cases involving Social Services, some are means-tested, some is not. There are three distinct stages of funding available: