Care proceedings are court proceedings issues by the local authority (also known as ‘social services’) where an application is made for a care order or supervision order. A care order gives the local authority parental responsibility which they will share with the current parental responsibility holders, the most common example being the child/ren’s parents. A supervision order does not give the local authority parental responsibility, but it bestows the legal power to monitor the child’s needs and progress while the child lives at home or somewhere else. In practice, a social worker will give help and support to the family, as a whole.
Unless the circumstances mean that an application must be made to court immediately, care proceedings will typically only be instigated after considerable efforts to keep the child with their family. A pre-proceedings meeting is an important element to the local authority’s public law outline (‘PLO’) duties. Parents will receive a pre-proceedings letter which outlines the concerns that the local authority has and what has been done by them to mitigate these concerns. The letter will invite the parents to a pre-proceedings meeting where the local authority will clearly outline what is expected of them to prevent court proceedings from being initiated. Parents are entitled to non-means, non-merits tested legal help which means they can instruct a solicitor. It is essential that parents show solicitors their PLO letter in order to get the funding.
If the local authority progresses to court proceedings, the parents will receive a letter of issue which sets out their intention to start care proceedings. S.14(2) of the Children and Families Act 2014 amends s.32(1)(a) of the Children Act 1989 to insert a clause that states a care case must be concluded without delay and within 26 weeks, beginning on the day the application was issued.
If the local authority believes the child/ren need to be removed from the care of the parents before the final hearing, they will ask the court to make a temporary order, called an interim care order. This will be decided by the Judge at the interim care order hearing. The court needs to decide whether to grant an interim care order, with whom the child should live until the final hearing and who will have contact with the child until the final hearing.
Following this, there will be a Case Management Hearing where the court sets out directions to the parties in order to gather the evidence it needs to make a final decision. This is generally a short hearing of approximately one hour.
The purpose of an Issues Resolution Hearing is to determine whether the care proceedings can be concluded early. If this is not possible, usually because the parties are not in agreement as to with who the child should live with and contact arrangements, the purpose of the hearing is to identify and narrow the issues the Judge needs to determine at the final hearing. At the Issues Resolution Hearing, the court can make further directions that the parties have to comply with.
There will be a Contested Final Hearing if the parties are unable to agree a plan regarding the child. Here, there will be witnesses called to give oral evidence, typical witnesses include the parents, the social worker and the guardian. The Judge will make a final order where he/she will determine whether a care order or supervision order is required to safeguard the welfare of the child.
Legal Aid is available for parents in care proceedings. Parents are entitled to a full Legal Aid Certificate of £25,000 which is non-means and non-merits tested. A Legal Aid Certificate gives the holder the right to have representation throughout the proceedings, including an advocate (also known as a barrister).
Both the pre-proceeding meeting and care proceedings can be daunting. If you have received a pre-proceedings letter or letter of issue, please feel free to contact us by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or telephone (020 7608 1227).