Care Proceedings

Social services offer a great many of families valuable support and advice. There are countless examples of families receiving help and working in partnership with social services. Most cases never reach court or need expert help.

However, at times it can also be a traumatic and stressful experience particularly in cases where families feel misjudged or where communication may have broken down.

There are a number of ways in which social services may become formally involved with a family. There may be a serious one off incident, referrals from individuals or agencies or concerns which have escalated over a period of time.

Before making a decision to start court proceedings, social services will more often than not try to work with families to address any concerns. In many cases a case conference may be arranged to consider whether a child protection plan should be put in place. All agencies involved with the family such as health visitor, nursery, school etc will be invited to the case conference to share information. Child protection plans are regularly reviewed. It is often not necessary for any further action to be taken.

In many cases where there have been concerns over a period of time, social services will write a formal letter to families setting out what action they need to take to improve matters and to avoid social services making an application to court for a care or supervision order. A meeting is arranged between the family and social services. Both the family and social services will be represented by a lawyer at the meeting. We are able to attend such a meeting with you. We will advise you both before, during and after the meeting.

If the concerns are so serious or matters do not improve, social services may decide to apply to court for a court order. There are a number of different orders of the court can make. We can advise you about each kind of order.

There are very strict guidelines about how long a court case should take. Currently the court aims to deal with a case in 26 weeks. This may vary depending on the issues involved. During this time, children may live at home, live with extended family members and friends or move into foster care.

It may be necessary for a number of assessments to be carried out, often involving expert witnesses. We will consider the issues involved in your matter and will advise you on what reports and assessments are needed. We have considerable experience in obtaining expert reports, including instructing international experts.

Contact with children during the process is a very important issue which is continually kept under review. If contact arrangements do not meet children’s needs, it is possible to ask the court to review the arrangements. We can advise you about contact issues both during and after court proceedings.

In some cases, social services may decide that children cannot return home, live with family members or stay in long term Foster care. Social services may ask the court to consider approving adoption as an appropriate plan . For more information go to ‘adoption’.

In most circumstances and cases, public funding (legal aid) will be available. For more details go to ‘Funding’.