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Care proceedings

Who can make decisions about your child’s care

The right to decide how a child is raised and cared for belongs to anyone who has ‘parental responsibility’ for them.

Parental responsibility means the legal rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority a parent has for a child and the child's property. A person who has parental responsibility for a child has the right to make decisions about their care and upbringing.

When can children’s services get involved in making decisions regarding your child

Children’s services are responsible for making sure that children are safe and cared for to a good enough standard by their parents or the person looking after them. If children’s services believe that your child may have been harmed or is likely to be harmed, they must take action to protect your child. Depending on the concerns that Children’s services have they can do the following:

(1) Make child protection enquiries and possibly place your child on a Child in Need plan or child protection plan;

(2) Start the PLO process

(3) Apply straight to court if they think your child is or may be suffering harm and they can’t be protected in some other way. This is called care proceedings.

THE PLO PROCESS

The PLO letter

If children’s services decide you should be given a further period of support to improve your parenting, they may send you a letter before proceedings telling you this. This is called a PLO letter/letter before proceedings. This letter should explain that court proceedings are likely but that you are being given a last chance to improve your parenting to avoid your child being removed. It will also (i) say what the concerns are about your child’s safety (ii) Set out what you need to change/improve in your parenting to make sure your child is safe and to avoid your child being removed from your care, (iii) Set out what help you will continue to be given to keep your child safe (iv) Invite you to a pre-proceedings meeting to discuss the improvements you need to make.

If you receive a letter before proceedings, it is really important that you see a solicitor specialising in children law immediately. You should give your solicitor a copy of the letter you have received. If you give them a copy of the letter before proceedings you will not have to pay their costs.

The PLO meeting

The pre-proceedings meeting is your last opportunity for you to discuss with children’s services what they want you to do to be able to care safely for your child, so that they do not need to be removed from your care.

Unless the circumstances are as such that an application must be made to court immediately, Care Proceedings will only be initiated after extensive efforts to keep the child with their birth family/carers.

The meeting will be attended by the parents, Children’s Services and legal representative for the parents and Children’s Services. It will be made clear to the parents what is expected of them in respect of their child in order to reduce the concerns held by Children’s Services. Care proceedings will be initiated if these changes are not implemented effectively and Children’s Services continue to have significant concerns for your child’s safety.

CARE PROCEEDINGS

If Children’s Services believe a child is at risk of significant harm, they can apply to court for permission to take action to protect the child. These are known as Care Proceedings.

Care Proceedings are Court Proceedings issued by the Children’s Services department of the Local Authority where an application is made for a "Care Order" or "Supervision Order" in respect of a child.

Interim Care Order

If Children's Services are of the view that the child needs to be removed from the care of the parents before the final hearing, the Social Worker will ask the court to make a temporary court order, called an 'interim care order'. Those who are 'party to proceedings' will be able to attend this court hearing and put forward representations.

Interim supervision order

An Interim Supervision Order means that the Local Authority has to assist and befriend the parents of the child. The Local Authority will support the parents in providing good enough parenting.

Can Children’s services remove your children from your care without your consent

Children’s services must get the permission of the court to remove your child against your wishes. The only time Children’s services won’t need either yours or the court’s permission remove your child is if they think your child is in immediate danger, in which case they can ask the police to use their powers to keep them safe. This is limited to 72 hours. After that time, children’s services have to either (i) return your child to your care, (ii) issue care proceedings or (iii) obtain your consent for your child to remain outside of your care (this is called section 20 accommodation). Please see below for information regarding section 20 accommodation.

Who can attend court hearings

The child’s parents and anyone else who holds Parental Responsibility for the child will be a ‘party to proceedings’. If you are a party to proceedings this means that you have a right to attend each Court Hearing and to be able to see all of the reports and evidence which is given to the court.

Those who are not automatically a ‘party to proceedings’ can make an application for permission to be joined as a 'party in proceedings'. You may be a family member that wishes to come a party to the proceedings. This is usually if you want to care for the child and Children’s services do not agree to place the child in your care. If this is the case, please contact us and we will advise you as to whether you are entitled make an application to court.

How long will care proceedings take

Care proceedings must be concluded without delay and in any event, within 26 weeks, beginning with the day on which the application was issued.

What orders can the court make at the end of care proceedings

There are several possible final orders the court can make:

Care Order: Local Authority gain parental responsibility for the child and the child becomes looked-after until the age of 18 (unless discharged before).

Supervision Order: Local Authority are granted the power to monitor the child’s needs whilst the child lives at home or elsewhere.

Special Guardianship Order: An Order that places a child or young person to live with someone other than their parent(s) on a long-term basis. Any person who has a Special Guardianship Order for a child has elevated parental responsibility. This means they are able to make decision regarding your child without your consent, apart from changing their name or allowing them to be adopted.

Placement Order: The Court provide permission to the Local Authority to place a child for adoption even if the child’s parents do not provide consent.

SECTION 20 ACCOMMODATION

Under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989, the Local Authority has a duty to provide a child with somewhere to live if the child doesn't have a home or a home which is deemed unsafe. This duty can arise from various reasons, for example, the child has been lost or abandoned.

If the Local Authority asks the parents to sign a Section 20, this will mean that the parents are agreeing for their child to live elsewhere whilst further assessments are undertaken. This can be with a friend or family member. However, if children’s services do not feel that the child will be safe with a friend or family member, then they will be placed in foster care.

A Section 20 Agreement is not a Court Order, and there is no involvement from the Courts at this stage.

A Section 20 Agreement does not give the Local Authority Parental Responsibility over the child.

Do you have to agree to a section 20 agreement

No. This is a voluntary agreement. You’re entitled to obtain legal advice before entering into a Section 20 to be sure you fully understand the terms and implications.

It’s important that you understand the terms of the Section 20 Agreement and what the agreement says. Such as, will the agreement will be for a specified time period, are there any investigations to be undertaken or will there be a pre-proceedings meeting. Parents must have received or been told all of the relevant information before agreeing to sign a section 20 Agreement. You must be given written confirmation of the agreement.

Can you withdraw your consent

Under Section 20(8) of the Children Act 1989, a person with Parental Responsibility can withdraw their consent at any time. Parents therefore should be informed that they’re able to do this by the Local Authority. You can withdraw your consent verbally, but it’s better to do this in writing.

If the Local Authority doesn’t want you to return the child to their home, they may seek a Police Protection Order or alternatively make an application to Court and commence Care Proceedings.

If the Local Authority ignores your attempts to withdraw your consent or you weren’t informed of your right to withdraw consent to the s.20 agreement, it is important that you obtain legal advice as soon as possible.

At Chivers Solicitors we have a dedicated team who advise and represent parents and children in care proceedings and the PLO process. If Children’s Services are involved with your child(ren) and you are worried about what the next steps are, then please contact us on 01274 561666.