This page provides information on the powers of the local authority to take action to protect a child who is suffering harm or at risk of suffering harm.
What are 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. 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.
In which circumstances will Care Proceedings be initiated?
If Children’s Services believe a child is suffering significant harm or at risk of suffering significant harm, they can apply to court for permission to take action to protect the child. This particular threshold is contained in Section 31 of the Children Act 1989. The child’s social worker will take this step if they believe that the child can no longer remain safely at home.
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. A pre-proceedings Meeting is an important element to Children’s Services ‘Public Law Outline’ duties. This meeting is a final attempt in preventing the matter going to court. Parents will receive a pre-proceedings letter at first which will outline the concerns that children’s services have and what has been done so far to try and mitigate those concerns. The letter will invite the parents to attend the pre-proceedings meeting and this must take place within seven days of the letter being received.
The meeting will be attended by the parents, Children’s Services and legal representative on both sides (see section below on Legal Aid). It will be made clear to the parents what is expected of them in respect of their child in order to mitigate the concerns held by Children’s Services. Ultimately, care proceedings will be initiated if these changes are not implemented effectively and Children’s Services continue to have significant concerns for a child’s safety.
Availability of Legal Aid.
Legal Aid is available for parents in these cases and for anyone else who holds Parental Responsibility for a child in question.
If you receive a “letter before proceedings” or “letter of issue” you will be eligible for non-means, non-merits tested legal aid.
- Letter before proceedings: This letter is sent to the parents where Children’s Services have decided that further time should be given. The letter is intended to warn parents that if the care given to the child does not improve, Children’s Services will initiate Care Proceedings.
- Letter of issue: This letter is sent to the parents when Children’s Services decide it is not in the child’s best interests for the current circumstances to continue and the child should instead removed and placed in care. The letter explains that Children’s Services intend to start Care Proceedings.
We would advise that you seek legal advice and representation in such circumstances. The Local Authority should provide you with a list of local Child Law solicitors, but can also refer to the following to find solicitors locally:
Who can attend the 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 privy to all reports and evidence which is pertinent to the Court Proceedings.
Those who are not automatically a ‘party to proceedings’ can make an application for permission to be joined as a ‘party in proceedings’. The relevant form is a C2 form and there is a £155 cost to make this application.
Care Proceedings timeline
Practice Direction 12A describes the court process in cases of public law care proceedings. Section 14(2) of the Children and Families Act 2014 amends s.32(1)(a) of the Children Act 1989 to insert that a case must be concluded: without delay; and in any event, within 26 weeks, beginning with the day on which the application was issued.
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. At this court hearing the court will decide:
- Whether to grant an interim care order
- With whom the child should live with until the final hearing
- Who will have contact with the child until the final hearing
If the court agrees, Children’s Services can take the child into care on a temporary basis for up to 8 weeks at first.
Case Management Hearing
The Case Management is a court hearing where directions will be set as to how the case will progress. The Court gives detailed case management directions, including:
- Identifying the key issues
- Identifying the evidence necessary to enable the court to resolve the key issues
- Deciding whether there is a real issue about threshold to be resolved
This is generally a short hearing which will resolve procedural matters which enable to case to be ready for a hearing where a final decision will be made.
Issues Resolution Hearing
The purpose of this hearing is to see if the care proceedings can be concluded early. If this is not possible, the purpose is to identify and narrow the issues for determination at a final hearing. It will generally be concluded early if everyone in the case is in agreement, for example, about with whom the child should live and arrangements regarding contact.
- Court identifies the key issue(s) (if any) to be determined and the extent to which those issues can be resolved or narrowed at the IRH
- Court considers whether the IRH can be used as a final hearing
- Court resolves or narrows the issues by hearing evidence
- Court identifies the evidence to be heard on the issues which remain to be resolved at the final hearing
- Court gives final case management directions including
If the child’s parents and the child’s social workers are unable to agree a plan regarding the child, the case will proceed to a final hearing. The court will determine whether a Care Order or a Supervision Order is required to safeguard the welfare of the child. If the court agrees that a Court Order is necessary given the circumstances, final decisions will also be made regarding with whom the child will live and contact arrangements for the parents and wider family.
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). Please see our page on ‘Care Orders‘.
- Supervision Order: Local Authority are granted the power to monitor the child’s needs whilst the child lives at home or elsewhere. Please see our page on ‘Supervision Orders‘.
- 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. Please see our page on ‘Special Guardianship Orders‘.
- 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.