Care proceedings are a type of court proceedings issued by a council which involve applying for a ‘care order’.
A care order is a type of court order which gives the council parental responsibility for the child in question. A care order enables a council to take a child into care. Having a care order will result in the council being able to decide where the child can live.
As well as a care order, the council may also decide to apply for a placement order as part of the care proceedings. They would do this if they believed that adoption of the child should take place.
A placement order gives the council the right to put the child with adoptive parents.
If the council believes that the child is being neglected, or abused (or is likely to be abused) by their parents or other people that the child knows, this could result in them commencing care proceedings.
Care proceedings normally only begin after all other avenues of keeping the child within their family have been exhausted.
However, care proceedings can start much earlier on if the level of risk to the child is high.
When the council applies for a care order, it is up to the court to decide if the child can be taken into care.
The Children Act 1989 says that the court can only make a care order (or supervision order) if it is satisfied:
“(a) that the child concerned is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm; and
(b) that the harm, or likelihood of harm, is attributable to—
(i) the care given to the child, or likely to be given to him if the order were not made, not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give to him; or
(ii) the child’s being beyond parental control.”
Care orders can last until another court order gives parental responsibility to someone else. This could happen if a child were adopted, for example.
It is also possible for a court to discharge (lift) the order.
A care order would come to an end on a child’s 18th birthday.
Care proceedings: what are interim care orders?
The council may ask the court for an interim care order at the start of care proceedings. This is a type of temporary court order which, if the court decides it is appropriate, enables the council to temporarily take the child into care.
Care proceedings can take time because a lot has to happen before the court can make a decision about what is best for the child.
Lots of information needs to be gathered and assessments need to take place, before the court can make a final decision about the care proceedings.
For example, during care proceedings, Cafcass (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) will have an officer working to try to understand the facts of the case. Care proceedings involve Cafcass (and others) talking with the parents and the child.
As part of care proceedings, family members may be contacted about looking after the child if that child is unable to live at home safely.
You should expect a social worker and Cafcass to prepare reports for the court during care proceedings, which detail what they believe should happen to the child.
In some circumstances, grandparents can also ask for the court to take their opinions into consideration.
Cafcass allocate a Children’s Guardian to represent the child during care proceedings. This person is independent from the court (and the council).
It is their role to choose a solicitor to represent the child. In addition, they will make recommendations to the court throughout the process and inform the court what they believe would be in the child’s best interests.
During care proceedings, a Cafcass Children’s Guardian will normally spend time with both the child and their family. Sometimes, a Children’s Guardian will also want to speak with other people in the child’s life, such as their teacher or social worker.
When the reports are all ready, a court hearing will take place. During this part of the care proceedings, the judge will listen to everyone involved, including the parents, the child, the solicitors and Cafcass.
After the judge has heard what everyone has had to say and read the reports, they will decide whether or not the child can go back home. If the judge decides at this point in the care proceedings that it is not safe for the child to return to their home, the council will find them a new home.
This could be, for example, with another family member, a friend or a foster carer. Sometimes, it will be appropriate for the child to be adopted.
The family court deals with care proceedings.
The length of time care proceedings take can vary greatly depending on the complexity of the case. Care proceedings normally take up to 6 months. Sometimes, care proceedings can take even longer than this if the case is particularly complicated.
Find a solicitor to help you navigate care proceedings
A family solicitor, such as Austin Kemp, can guide you through what can be a very long and complicated process and can represent you at court. If you discover care proceedings are going to begin or you receive papers from the court to notify you that care proceedings are starting, get in touch with us as soon as possible.
Our expert family law solicitors can help you with a range of legal issues relating to care proceedings, including:
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