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Social Services: Court Proceedings Issued - Care Orders

Social Services is a government backed organisation that works to protect children and vulnerable adults from abuse or neglect. There is a Social Services department within every Local Authority.

The level of support offered by Social Services varies but, ultimately, the Local Authority has a duty of care to safeguard the welfare of a child. If necessary, Social Services, through the Local Authority, has the power to apply to the Court for a child to be removed from the family home. This would be through a Care Order.

Separating a child from a parent is always a last resort and the parent/guardian will be offered support to prevent this from happening. But, it’s the child’s welfare that matters, so if the child is thought to be at risk, a Care Order will be applied for.

If you’re in this situation, we strongly recommend you talk to us, we have a team of accredited solicitors who specialise in this work. In the meantime, here are some questions we’re often asked:

The social worker is making things out to sound worse than they are

The court’s primary concern is the welfare of the child. If your child has been put at risk; if there’s been substance misuse or domestic abuse for example, you need to be able to show how you’re making changes and not just explain why things have happened.

The social worker said she’s/he’s going to get an order from the court, what’s she/he talking about?

This means the social worker is going to apply for an interim care order, but just because the application is made doesn’t mean it will be granted - decisions are made by Judges not social workers. Seek advice as there are often ways we can help you challenge the local authority’s plans for your child.

What’s an interim care order?

Put simply, it’s a court order which places a child in the temporary care of the Local Authority so that it can decide where the best place would be for them to live whilst decisions are being made about their long term future. It also gives the Local Authority shared parental responsibility for the child. 

An interim care order doesn’t mean a child will be placed in foster care every time an order is taken out; in some cases the child can stay at home. Also, just because a local authority applies for an interim care order, it doesn’t mean it will be granted.

If my child is in care can I see them?

In most circumstances, yes, the Local Authority has a legal duty to promote ‘reasonable’ contact between parents and their children. If a child is subject to an interim care order, the Local Authority must arrange parental contact unless it has specifically asked the court for an order allowing it to refuse contact. 

In these instances the parent would have to be told about any application to prevent contact. Other family members may also be able to see the child; this will depend largely on the role they have played in the child’s life so far and what role they envisage playing in the future.

Do all children who go into care get adopted?

No, adoption is always a last resort. It’s only pursued when all other avenues have been exhausted. Many children who are involved in care proceedings return home to their parents or go to live with other members of their family.

How long do care proceedings last?

Usually, it lasts around 26 weeks – six months. The court monitors this closely and will try to conclude things before then, but it’s not always possible or appropriate. This is particularly true of more complicated cases where proceedings can take longer. 

Although you may think six months is a long time, you’d be surprised how quickly it passes so it’s very important that once proceedings are served (or before if possible), you start to address any issues or problems. Come to see us as soon as possible.

A ‘guardian’ has rung me – who is he/she?

Your child will have their own legal team during the court case. The guardian is an independent person who instructs your child’s solicitor about what they think is in the child’s best interests.

What’s an SGO?

An SGO is a Special Guardianship Order. It gives the special guardian enhanced parental responsibility and bridges the gap between care and adoption orders. It’s usually granted to family members who take over the care of a child at the end of care proceedings.

I’ve been asked by social services if I want to be assessed to look after my grandchild/nephew/niece. What does this involve?

The assessment is undertaken by a social worker and is very detailed. It covers all aspects of your life as the Local Authority wants to ensure that the child will be safe if placed in your care long term. It’s important to understand that the Local Authority want to be sure that you want, and are in a position, to care for the child long term, not just whilst court proceedings are on-going. 

Once the assessment is complete you’re entitled to a copy of the assessment document so that you can check that you feel it’s accurate. If the assessment is positive then the Local Authority may seek to place the child with you, subject to the position of the child’s parents. But if it’s not, then you’ll need to consider taking legal advice as to whether you want to challenge it in the court proceedings.

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