Children’s Matters

Involvement with Social Services

Children services are an organisation who monitor that children’s welfare needs are met. Parents often believe that they only become involved when there is a child who has been abused, but that may not always be the case.

Children services can offer support to parents who may be having problems with their children and can offer experienced advice .

Sometimes however, problems occur which result in Social services becoming involved because of concerns that have been raised about the care of your children. This may take the form of Physical, emotional sexual abuse or more commonly neglect.

They can also become involved where one of the parents is in a domestically abusive relationship and this is impacting on the child; this is often referred to as a parent failing to protect their child from harm.

Click on the drop down headings to see some of your concerns answered.

It is important for parents to understand that for children services to become involved there must have been a referral. Too often parents believe that it is members of the public, neighbours and family members just causing trouble. Where very rarely that is the case, usually children services have become involved because another professional e.g. doctor, healthcare worker, midwife, health visitor, schools and other child care provider will have raised concerns about your child.

It is important to understand that these professionals are under a duty to report their concerns about any children to the children services. The wellbeing of the children is the ultimate concern of all the professionals and not the wishes and feeling of the parents. The professionals will have had to collect a lot of evidence to support their concerns before they are able to make a referral.

It may seem unfair to the parents but it is important to understand that if the concerns are unfounded then children services will stop being involved, but sometimes there may be problems that the parents may not be aware of that may need help.

It may seem unfair to the parents but it is important to understand that if the concerns are unfounded then children services will stop being involved, but sometimes there may be problems that the parents may not be aware of that may need help.

Initially children services may decide that your children are children in need: at this point you should work with the social worker to try and resolve the problems. If you are unsure you should get legal advice from a children’s lawyer you can get legal aid to assist you (see our funding page for more detail)

Sometimes children services need to take a more formal position, this is called a PLO (Public Law Outline) meeting. You will have received a letter inviting you to a meeting, you will be advised to bring a lawyer to this meeting. You should not ignore this letter, as this is the last chance to resolve the problems before Children’s services take the matter to court you can get legal aid to help at this meeting (see our funding page for more details).

Sometimes the problems are such that children services need to take the matter to court. This may be because either the risk of harm to the children is too great, or the child has suffered or is likely to suffer serious harm if they are left at home, or the parents are not working with them to resolve the problems.

The social workers legal team will prepare an application as well as a statement setting out their concerns.

This is sent to the court who will give a date when the court will listen to the application. It is vital that you get legal advice as soon as you know that the matter is going to court. This is called care proceedings you can get legal aid to deal with this (see our funding page for more details).

Sometimes the concern is so great that either the police (police protection) or social worker (emergency protection) will get permission to remove the children from their parents without you having been to court. This only happens rarely and in real emergencies.
You should get urgent legal help if this happens legal aid is available for this (see our funding page for more details).

Once the matter has been taken to court the judge will decide where the children will live whilst the concerns of children services are investigated. Care proceeding should conclude within 26 weeks unless there are good reasons to extend the time table. Only the court can extend the timetable a judge must agree that is in the children’s best interests to do so.

The children will have their own legal team which will consist of a guardian and a children’s lawyer. The court will listen very carefully to the recommendations of the guardian. The guardian will want to hear from you as well.

You may be asked to agree to expert examinations, e.g. drug or alcohol testing, psychological or psychiatric assessment. You may also be asked to put forward other members of the family who can care for the children if they are unable to return to your care.

Often parents find this very frightening, but it is essential to take good advice and act on that advice. The local authority (children’s services legal team) have to make plans both for the children returning home and for the possibility that they cannot, this is called parallel planning.

Parents often believe that it is not possible to get their children back home if they have been put in foster care. That is not true. Provided parent take good advice and work with the social worker, and the parent can show that they can provide safe and good enough parenting, then it is possible for the children to return home to their care.

Sometimes it is not safe for the children to return home, the court will want to see if there is any other member of the family that can care for the children. If it is not possible for the children to remain in the family, then the court may consider that either long term foster placement or Adoption is the only option available.

The court can make many different orders (see the list below) the court can also return the children back to the parents without any orders at all.

The parents can also agree to the children being placed in foster care on a voluntary basis this is called section 20 accommodation.

Care Order: this is an order that can be made on an interim (whilst the court are considering the matter further) or a final basis. It gives the children services parental responsibility for the children so that they can make decisions about the children while they are in foster care. A care order will usually be made for the whole of the time that the matter is at court. it is possible to challenge the making of a care order, but you need to take advice before doing so Children services share parental responsibility with the parents and should keep the parents informed about what decisions are being made. A meeting is held every 6 weeks regarding the children’s care this is called a looked after children’s review.

Supervision Order: this is an order where it is considered that the children can remain in the care of one or both of the parents whilst the problems are being investigated by the court (though this is not common), or where the children have been returned to the parents care permanently, but there is still the need for support from children’s services. Children services do not share parental responsibility, but assist and befriend the parent to offer support and advice.

Child Arrangement Order: sometimes also called a section 8 order. This is where it is necessary to say exactly who the child will live with. E.g. where the children are returned to one parent alone or to an extended family member. Often a supervision order is made at the same time for a period no longer than 2 years.

Special Guardianship Order: sometimes it is not possible for the children to return to the parents but a member of the family, e.g. Grandparent, aunt or uncle has been assessed as being a suitable carer for the children until they reach the age of 18yrs. This order gives the Special Guardian, super parental responsibility so that they can make decisions about the children without the parents consent. The parents will still have parental responsibility.

Adoption Orders: sometimes it is not possible to return the children to the care of the parents and there are no other family members available or considered able to provide good enough care for the children. In these circumstances the local authority will ask the court to make a placement order, so that the children can be placed with a family for adoption. The parents can consent to this but often parents cannot do so, under those circumstances the court may make an order dispensing with the parents consent, i.e. saying that the order can be made without the parents having to agree to it. Adoption orders remove parental responsibility from the birth parents and give parental responsibility to the adoptive parents.

Contact orders:during proceedings at court children services will offer contact with the children whilst they are in foster care, this contact is usually supervised, and will often form part of a parenting assessment which will inform the court about whether the parents are able to care for the children. Contact is not usually offered everyday as there will be a lot of meeting with professional that the parents and the children will need to attend. Your legal tem will be able to advise you on whether the contact is fair or whether you should ask the court for more. At the end of the matter if the children are not able to return home to their parents, there will usually be limited contact to the children where a Care or SGO (special guardianship order) is made.

Although on rare occasions it is possible for contact to continue following an adoption order being made, this is very rare and usually the only contact available for the parents is letterbox contact, your lawyer will be able to advise you about this.

Children’s Issues

When a relationship breaks down and there are children from that relationship, issues with regards to arrangements for their care may arise. If the parents cannot agree, the situation can be quite distressing both for them and for the children.

The most common areas of disagreement are as to which parent the child should live with and when the other parent can see the child; however, disagreements may also arise for example with regards to issues about health and education or taking the child abroad on holiday.

These matters can be resolved by negotiation, attending mediation, or as a final resort, making an application to the Court, where the Court and Family advisor will assist the family, meeting both of the parents and the children and will then make recommendations to the Court.

Parental Responsibility is the rights, powers, duties and obligations that a parent has in respect of a child.

All birth mothers automatically have Parental Responsibility as do married fathers; an unmarried father whose name is on the birth certificate, and who was present if the birth was registered on or after the 31st December 2003, also has Parental Responsibility.

An unmarried father (or even a step parent) can apply to the Court for a Parental Responsibility Order. There is also the option of obtaining Parental Responsibility by way of entering into a written Parental Responsibility Agreement.

This is a written agreement entered into by both parents and gives Parental Responsibility to both.

It gives the father the right to be consulted on all the major issues regarding the welfare of the child and his/her upbringing. Such an agreement can be particularly important when the parents have separated.

The welfare of the child is always the paramount concern of the Court. The Court will require evidence that the father has shown commitment to the child and has an attachment to the child. The Court will also want to know his reasons for wanting Parental Responsibility and will decide whether or not it is in the child’s best interests to grant it. On the whole, however, the Court is inclined to grant such an Order, unless good reasons can be shown as to why it should not do so.

Child Arrangement Orders have two main functions. They determine a) with whom a child is to live and b) with whom, when and how a child is to spend time with any person.

Usually there will be one main carer for the child, although shared care arrangements are possible. With regards to who the child is to spend time with, this usually refers to the other parent. Depending upon the circumstances of the individual case, the arrangements may be very clearly and closely defined or they may be more open and flexible. It may even be the case that the Child Arrangement Order will state that the contact must be supervised or can only take place in a specific location if this is felt to be in the child’s best interests.

Failure to comply with a Child Arrangement Order can lead to enforcement proceedings.

Although many Child Arrangement Orders give main care of a child to one parent, shared child care arrangements are not uncommon. This means that both parties have care of the child. This does not necessarily mean that the child spends 50% of his/her time with each parent. A shared care arrangement can apportion the time quite differently. It may mean, for example, that the child spends most of term time with one parent and then most of the school holidays with the other. Such arrangements have to be based on what is practical and what will be in the child’s best interests.

The Court takes the view that in general no Order should be made. The Court will only make an Order if it considers it is better to do so than not to make an Order.

Applications can be made to the Court to settle very specific questions, for example, if a parent has concerns that a parent may not return a child from a holiday abroad, a Prohibited Steps Order may be made forbidding the parent from taking the child abroad; if a parent wishes to take a child abroad on holiday but the other parent has possession of the passport and will not hand it over, the Court may make an Order that it should be made available to the other parent. Orders can also be made with regards to matters such as religious upbringing, medical care, and choice of school.

Grandparent’s Rights

It is generally accepted that grandparents can and do play a significant and beneficial role in the upbringing of a child. Sadly, when parents separate grandparents can sometimes find themselves edged out and they may lose contact with their grandchild altogether.

Grandparents do not actually have any automatic rights in respect of their grandchildren.

However, they may make an application to the Court to obtain rights. Initially they would have to apply to the Court for permission to do this and the Court would normally grant such an application unless it finds evidence that the grandparent having contact with the child will not be beneficial to the child e.g. if there is evidence of violence or abuse.

If a grandparent has lost contact with a child, he or she can apply for permission to apply for a Contact Order. If that permission is granted, the grandparent can then apply for a Contact Order to see the grandchild.

The process may become complex if either or both parents object to the application and this could result in the matter going to a full hearing with evidence being required.

There are various kinds of contact; direct contact is where visits take place and the grandparent can telephone the child as well as sending letters, birthday cards and so on. Indirect contact is limited to letters and birthday and Christmas cards and presents as appropriate.

In some cases, where a parent is unable to care for a child, the Courts will look to the wider family for assistance. Grandparents can often step in in these circumstances. If such a situation should arise in your family, as a grandparent you would be able to make an application for a Residence Order so that the child will live with you.

Any decision made by the Court is always based on what it considers to be in the child’s best interests.

These situations when they arise are stressful and emotional. Applications to the Court can heighten the situation, especially where there is already animosity in a family. If at all possible, it would be best to avoid Court proceedings and we would advise a referral to the Mediation Service where the parents and grandparents can meet with a specialist mediator to try to come to an agreement. This can be a very constructive and beneficial process for all parties involved and avoids the stress and cost of Court proceedings.

If you have any further questions or require more information, please do not hesitate to contact us.
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