Harney & Wells have extensive experience in representing parties in care proceedings. Here is a brief overview of the terminology and processes involved.
The law says that there are four types of child abuse: physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse and neglect. If a child is being abused in any of these ways, the Local Authority (Children’s Services) will take action and will think about taking the child into care.
A child becomes adopted when a Court makes an Adoption Order. The Order can be made even if the child’s parents do not agree. The Adoption Order removes parental responsibility from the child’s parents and passes it to the adopters. They become the child’s parents and are responsible for all aspects of the child’s care and for making all the key decisions about them. The birth parents are no longer the child’s parents and cannot have him or her back.
A Court can order assessments to take place as part of making its decision about how a child should be looked after. These assessments involve professionals such as Doctors, Psychologists or Counsellors meeting a child or the child’s parents and finding out information to report back to the Court.
Care normally refers to what happens when a Court decides that the child should not live with their parents. The child goes into care and lives in either a foster home or a children’s home. It can be for a short while or for some years.
A Court Order is something a Judge or Magistrates can make. It can be about all sorts of subjects from where a child should live to who is allowed to have contact with a child in care.
Examples include: a Care Order or a Supervision Order. If someone does not follow a Court Order they can be taken back to Court.
If a child has suffered significant harm (ill treatment), or is thought to be at risk of significant harm, the Local Authority will get involved in the child’s life to try to protect them. This can be the start of Care Proceedings.
Neglect is when a child does not get the care they need. That includes food, warmth, safety, education and general attention.
Letter Before Proceedings
A letter before proceedings is a formal letter. It invites you to come to a meeting with your Local Authority because they are worried about your child.
This is when a looked-after child stays with a foster carer until they reach adulthood.
Parental responsibility is the legal right to make decisions about your child’s life. A child’s mother gets parental responsibility when their child is born. If the child’s father is married to the mother they will have parental responsibility or if they are named on the child’s birth certificate and the child was born after 1 December 2003 they will have parental responsibility too. Sometimes a Local Authority will ask a Court to give them parental responsibility for a child who they may or may not then take into care.
A pre-proceedings meeting is a key part of the process the Local Authority uses to decide whether or not to go to Court about your child. The aim is to agree how you will change the way you look after your child.
Child Arrangements Order
This is a legal document from a Court which says with whom a child should live or with whom a child should spend time. A Child Arrangements Order confirming that a child should live with a specified person or persons will have parental responsibility for that child and it will usually last until the child is sixteen, unless exceptional circumstances apply.
A family member, family friend or the child’s foster carer can ask the Court to become the child’s Special Guardian. A Special Guardian has parental responsibility for the child. They become responsible for everything to do with the child’s care and for taking decisions to do with their upbringing. However, they cannot consent to the child’s adoption, give them a new name or remove them from the UK for longer than three months. A Special Guardianship Order lasts until the child turns eighteen.