By Family Law Solicitor, Bianca Jones
A local authority is likely to become involved with matters concerning children if they are concerned for the child's welfare. This can be that the child is regularly missing school, is at risk of violence or the local authority have concerns in respect of your parenting, behaviour or even people you associate with if they pose a risk to the child.
The severity of the local authority's concerns will determine the course of action they take.
Throughout this article I will refer to the 'threshold criteria'. In order for the Court to become involved in a matter involving children, certain criteria must be met. The threshold criteria sets this out and acts as a 'test' for the local authority to apply to the case, to determine whether it's possible to bring proceedings before the Court.
The threshold will be met if the child has suffered significant harm or is at serious risk of significant harm.
Child in Need
If the local authority are unable to meet the threshold test but have concerns then a 'child in need plan' may be created.
A social worker is likely to become involved with matters at this stage and will want to assess the level of risk to the child. An assessment is likely to be conducted and all avenues will be explored, such as whether other agencies could provide assistance to reduce the risks.
Child Protection Concerns
Where the local authority believe that a child is at a significant risk of harm a 'child protection conference' may be held. This will provide the local authority along with a number of other organisations such as the police, the child's school, health care visitors or the child's GP the opportunity to express their concerns with the child's parent/s.
A plan will be created with subsequent core group sessions being held once the plan is in place. A further conference will then be held 3 months down the line. Reviews will then be held at least every 6 months until matters are brought to an end.
A child protection conference can be a difficult meeting for a parent to attend. But if you are in this situation, it is important to remember that everyone in the meeting is acting in your child's best interests and wants to create a plan that is not only beneficial to the child but also to you.
It is worth noting that if a child protection plan comes to an end it is likely that the child will be reduced to a 'child in need'. This is a positive step as it means the local authority will still be involved with matters but not as involved as when the child was on the child protection plan.
In matters where the local authority look to bring matters to Court they must advise you of their intention to make an application to Court (unless the matter requires immediate action). You may be invited to a pre-proceedings meeting where the local authority will provide you with a written plan. In this meeting, they will explain their concerns to you and what actions you need to take to improve matters and avoid the local authority taking the matter to Court.
The local authority are likely to request that a parenting assessment be conducted. You may also be able to put forward family and friends to be assessed by the local authority.
If it is clear that no progress is being made, or if there are imminent risks to a child then the local authority will have no option but to bring matters before the Court. The Court will then consider whether the threshold criteria has been met.
The Court has a statutory deadline of 26 weeks within which to conclude matters. During the proceedings the Court has the power to make a variety of Court Orders. When making their decision the welfare of the child is paramount and the Court will consider whether making the Order is in the child's best interests.
Some of the most common Court Orders relating to children matters include:
- Care Order – this places the child in the care of the local authority. This gives the local authority parental responsibility over the child and they can make decisions such as to remove the child.
- Supervision Order – this gives the local authority legal authority to 'supervise' the child, monitoring their needs and their progress without them being in care. The order does not grant parental responsibility to the local authority. The child would still live at home or elsewhere while a social worker would monitor the child, supporting them and their family.
- Special Guardianship Order – this appoints one or more 'special guardians' to look after and take on Parental Responsibility for a child. This will be a long term placement but will still allow links between the child and their parents.
- Residence Order – this determines who a child should live with and grants that person Parental Responsibility for the child. They will share this Parental Responsibility with the child's legal parents.
- Emergency Protection Order – this is used only in extremely serious circumstances, where a child is at imminent risk of danger. This Court Order gives limited Parental Responsibility to the person who applied for it and the legal power to remove the child from their current situation.
Getting Legal Help with Children Matters
Our Family Law Solicitors can provide help and legal advice on matters involving children. We can also assist with Court Orders, including applying for Special Guardianship Orders and discharging (or removing) Care Orders, meaning that a child would be removed from the local authority's care. Please note that significant changes will need to be made before the Court will consider discharging a Care Order.
We can also provide legal advice on the contents of Court Orders or provide advice on what to do once a Care Order has been made by the Court. If a local authority has recommended that you apply for a Court Order, such as a Child Arrangement Order, then we can provide advice and guide you through this process.
For free initial legal advice call our Family Law Solicitors on 03306069626 or contact us online and we will call you.