Care Proceedings: What should happen before the council decides to apply for a care order?
Unless the council thinks your child is in immediate danger, it should normally take other steps before it decides to apply for a care order. Under the new legal system known as the Public Law Outline, the council should do all it can to support you in caring for your child without the need to go to court. If you can’t cope, the council should try to find out whether anyone in your child’s wider family is willing and suitable to care for them. It can take these steps:
- It may hold a meeting called a ‘child protection case conference’ to see if your child could be properly protected without a care order – for example, by providing you and your family with support services. All the professionals, organisations and agencies involved with your child, such as doctors and schools, will be invited to the meeting. You would normally be invited too. Where appropriate, plans will be made for your child to be kept safe and well- cared for.
- It may refer you for a Family Group Conference (FGC). This is a meeting where the whole family gets together to make plans and decisions for children who, because of difficulties in the family, need a plan that will keep them safe and promote their welfare. Parents and other family members lead the meeting and the children themselves may come if they want. The professionals are only involved in part of the meeting.
- FGCs are still quite new but the government is encouraging their use. Many courts now expect that families will have been offered an FGC before court action starts. So if the council has concerns about your children and you think it may be considering taking legal action, you could ask whether it can refer you for an FGC.
- Before it takes formal care proceedings (by applying to the court), the council should also send the parents (and others with parental responsibility) a ‘letter before proceedings’. This tells you why it is concerned about your child and what you can do to improve things and so avoid a court case. This letter will normally invite you to a meeting to discuss this. You can bring a solicitor with you to this meeting if you want.
- If the council doesn’t send you a ‘letter before proceedings’, you will find out about the proceedings when you receive a notice from the court. If you are a parent with parental responsibility, you will be a ‘party’ to the proceedings, so you will receive a copy of the application and will be told the date, time and place of the first hearing (called the ‘First Appointment’).
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- Community Legal Advice