Child Care FAQs
In our daily work for our clients, our Child Care and Family team; Rebecca Wolfenden and Pamela Walsh often come across the same questions from existing and “would be” clients. To help, we have put together a list of the most commonly asked questions and our replies.
Children’s Services can apply for a care order when they have significant concerns about a child’s safety and well-being and the parents/carers have not been able to sort out the things that they are worried about.
If a Care Order is made on your child, whether this is temporary or long-term, Children’s Services have the right to remove your child from your care even if you don’t agree if the court approves this plan.
If the social worker plans to apply for a Care Order, they should tell you this and should confirm this in a letter to you. If for any reason you don’t know about it, you will find out when you receive a notice from the court saying they are applying for a care order.
If you are a parent/or someone else with parental responsibility for the child, you will automatically be a ‘party’ to the proceedings. This means you have a right to go to court to argue against their application and say what you think is best for your child. You can also get free legal aid to pay for a solicitor to represent you.
If you are a relative, you can ask if you can join in the proceedings – this is called becoming a party. It gives you the right to speak in court and tell the judge what you think is best for the child and how you can help, for example if you can take on the care of the child if they cannot remain with their parents.
You don’t have an automatic right to free legal aid to be represented by a solicitor in the case (unless you already have parental responsibility for the child). However, you can apply for legal aid but whether you get it will depend on how much money you have and whether you have a good case to argue in court.
The case won’t be decided as soon as it starts. This is because the court needs to make sure it has all the important evidence, reports and statements about the child before it makes a final decision. There will therefore be an initial hearing called a Case Mangement Hearing (CMH) when the court will decide how the case will be prepared including:
- Where the child will live until the final hearing and who they will see; and
- What papers must be sent to court and the timetable of the case – it should normally be finished within 26 weeks.
Also, if you are a parent and Children’s Services are saying you cannot care for your child, you should make sure that anyone in your child’s family who is willing and suitable to care for your child gets involved in the court proceedings straight away. This includes relatives on both the mother and father’s sides of the family.
They should also ask the social worker to assess them as a potential carer for your child as soon as possible, whether they are offering to care for the child on a short or long term basis and do not be embarrassed or afraid to tell them what is happening.
In most cases you will be allowed to see your child, depending on what the court thinks is in your child’s best interests. This will be called contact or “family time”.
The law says that if the court decides to make a Care Order, it must also decide on contact arrangements for you and other family members to see your child if they are not returning to your care. You will be able to comment on the contact arrangements Children’s Services suggest. This will be kept under review.
If you are unhappy about the plans for contact, you can explain to the court why you disagree with what Children’s Services are proposing.
If you remain unhappy about the contact arrangements, you can apply to court for an Order seeking contact to a child in care, setting out other different arrangements for contact, although the court will only order this if it thinks this is in your child’s best interests.
If the local authority was given an Emergency Protection Order (EPO) by the court without you knowing beforehand, you should be told the reasons why the order was made and why it was made without you being told. This information should be given to you as soon as your child is in a safe place.
Even if you don’t know where your child is living you should be given information about your child, including a copy of the care plan and information about any contact arrangements.
It might be that you are not being told some things (like where your child is staying) because your child’s social worker feels it would not be in your child’s best interests.
You cannot appeal against an Emergency Protection Order but if it was made when you were not in court you can apply to end the Emergency Protection Order.
Yes, contact may be supervised by a friend or family member, as long as they are approved by the social worker to do so. Put forward names of possible supervisors as soon as possible as this can take some time.
Can I get help with the costs of contact, such as transport and activities, as these are expensive?
Your child’s social worker may be able to help with expenses, such as transport, meals and activities. You should get this help if your child’s social worker thinks that the visits can’t otherwise happen without causing you a lot of financial difficulty.
If the social worker doesn’t give you help with contact costs, you could complain but first negotiate with the social worker and the Independent Reviewing Officer first, explaining why you need this help.
You can also make a complaint to CAFCASS, but you should discuss this first in case it makes things worse rather than better for you in the longer term.
You should first talk to the social worker and ask if you can have more contact. You should explain why you think this would be helpful for your child. If you are not happy with what the social worker decides talk to your solicitor and ask if you can apply for a contact order.
You can appeal against Interim Care Orders but they are not often successful and you are only allowed to appeal for very limited reasons and the deadlines is tight.
Try and keep all written documents together. It is a good idea to have a file for these.
Try to keep all appointments with your solicitor and other professionals – if there is an emergency and you can’t get to an appointment make sure you let the right people know.
It is also a good idea to keep a written note of conversations with the social worker or other professionals involved with your family.
The main things the court needs to think when making a decision about your child’s future and whether a legal order is needed for your child are:
- your child’s wishes and feelings
- your child’s physical, emotional and/or educational needs
- your child’s age, sex and background
- the likely effect of any proposed change on your child
- any risk of harm to your child
- how capable you (and your child’s other parent) are of meeting your child’s needs
This is called the welfare checklist. The court should also always think about the impact of delay on your child and whether your child would be better off without a court order.
Whether or not your child can go to live with one of their relatives will depend on the issues in your case provided it not too late for them to be considered. Talk to your child’s social worker about it and ask for your child’s relative to speak to the social worker. It is also a good idea for this relative to get their own legal advice about going to court to get care of your child.
This will enable them to understand what is involved and to understand the different options such as for example by applying for a Child Arrangements Order or Special Guardianship Order. They might be asked to care as a Kinship Carer, which is like a family member becoming a foster carer.
You can appeal against a care order but they are rarely successful and you are only allowed to appeal for very limited reasons.
Both your and your child’s human rights should always be considered in family law cases. Human Rights issues must be raised at the time in the care proceedings.
In rare situations, where there has been a breach of your human rights, you may be able to apply to court for an injunction to stop something happening or to make something happen. In some cases you can also get damages. For this you will need advice from a specialist.
You should first raise any concerns you have about your child’s treatment with your child’s social worker. If you don’t feel happy with that you should contact the fostering team about making a formal complaint. You could also talk about your worries with the Independent Reviewing Officer.
You do not need to wait until the next LAC Review meeting to do this.
Also, all children in care are entitled to speak to an advocate, so you should make sure your child (if old enough) knows this. It’s part of the job of the Independent Reviewing Officer and/or social worker to explain this to your child.
Try to understand why your child was removed. Even if you do not agree with the reasons for the Care Order, you should try to understand them. You can stay involved with the planning process by going to the Looked after Children review meetings for your child.
Even when a child is on a full Care Order, you may still be able to have regular contact with your child. Make sure you attend all contact sessions on time, and tell your child’s social worker if you can’t make it. Although it can be very hard, try to make sure contact is a positive experience for your child and that you don’t show the child if you are upset during contact.
If things go very well, it is possible you may be able to get increased contact with your child or even go back to court in the future to ask if your child can return home, see How you may be able to get your child home.
Your child’s social worker cannot stop contact without getting the court to agree. But Children’s Services do have the power to stop contact for up to seven days in an emergency, if they think contact with you will harm your child. If that happens, they must explain in writing why this decision was made, and how the decision can be challenged in court.
If you are not happy about where your child is living or how they are being cared for, try to think about exactly what it is that you are worried about and explain this to your child’s social worker. Maybe a meeting between you, the carer and the social worker could clear things up. If your child is in a residential placement, such as a children’s home, then it might help if a staff member or manager of the residential unit was at the meeting.