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What is a Care Order?
If a child is suspected of being at risk of significant harm in their current residence, the local authority (often called Children’s Services) may seek a Care Order to gain parental responsibility for the child and make decisions about where the child lives and their welfare. In such cases, the local authority's parental responsibility outweighs that of the parents. However, the local authority must uphold their responsibility to care for the child - if they fail to do this, the court may intervene, as the court's top priority will always be the welfare of the child.

If you are a parent and find yourself in a situation where your child may be taken away from you by a local authority, you should understand your options. In the following guide, the Family and Child Law experts at Ramsdens Solicitors will explain what you can expect to happen when care proceedings take place, and what you may be able to do to dispute them.

What is the process regarding a Care Order?
For the court to agree to a Care Order, the local authority must prove that the child's welfare is at risk. The local authority would firstly need to prove factual grounds for an order, which is sometimes called ‘threshold’. Secondly, the local authority would need to show that the child’s ‘welfare’ (due to a number of factors) means that a Care Order is necessary.

Concerns for the child may arise due to referrals, or through the local authority's own investigation. Each parent of a child involved in a case is likely to be separately represented by their own solicitor. The court will direct the appointment of an independent solicitor for the child or children involved in the case and also a child welfare expert called a Children’s Guardian, who is totally independent of the local authority.

If the local authority finds that the child has suffered, or is at risk of suffering significant harm - be it emotional, physical and/or sexual - the authority may take their evidence to the family court and request that a Care Order be made. This will begin care proceedings.

In some cases, an Interim Care Order may be made at the beginning of the proceedings, which will allow the local authority to place the child in temporary care, whether that be a foster carer or a member of the family. It is also important to note that the court may need to consider other arrangements or legal orders that mean the child can remain with the parents, which is why high-quality legal advice is so important at an early stage. Interim Care Orders are intended to be short-term, and can remain in place during assessment periods and provide the opportunity for all parties to provide evidence to the court. At the end of proceedings, the court will then decide which final order is appropriate, having considered and assessed all evidence before them. If you are a parent and find yourself within care proceedings, it is important to understand that you have the right to access legal advice and for your voice to be heard. You can contact us straight away and our specialist solicitors will support you throughout the proceedings.

It is important to understand your rights and responsibilities, and that you understand the various time limits for orders (or to challenge an order) and also the court process. Our Child Law experts can provide you with this information and explain the process and what to expect.

What are my options if my child is subject to a Care Order?
If your child is subject to care proceedings (for example, an Interim Care Order or an Interim Supervision Order), you should seek legal advice from a professional Child Law solicitor, such as those at Ramsdens Solicitors. Care proceedings can have significant consequences for the family, which is why it is important that you seek professional and free legal advice at the earliest opportunity from a solicitor who specialises in Child Law. It usually helps your case if you engage with other professional involved with your child, including attending assessment appointments when it is appropriate and which your solicitor can give you advice about.

Even if the court has made an interim order for your child or children at the start of the case due to the grounds put forward by the local authority, it is the factors relating to the child’s welfare that inform the future planning and decisions in relation to the court making a final order. It is really important in helping your case if you can prove to the court and professionals that you can address the relevant concerns that are important to your child’s welfare and keeping your child safe. The court must take into account any changes you have made since the case started or update the information that could be important to your case or your child’s welfare before deciding on any final order or arrangements as to where your child lives or with whom.

Our solicitors will work with you to understand your situation and recommend ways your situation may be helped by providing expert legal advice.

Can I afford to seek legal advice?
Parents with parental responsibility are automatically entitled to funding for free legal advice and representation in court under the legal aid scheme when their child/children are subject to care proceedings. Funding assistance and free ledal aid may also be available to assist other important family members and persons connected to the child or children. For more information on funding, please speak to a member of our team.

To speak to one of our team, call us today on 01484 821 500. Alternatively, fill out a contact form and we will return your call at a time convenient for you.