The family team at Broadway Solicitors understand how overwhelming and upsetting the process can be for those involved in proceedings which have been issued by the local authority. We are able to recognise the sensitive nature of this work and will advise and represent you throughout the court proceedings which are issued. If you are a parent we will apply for legal aid on your behalf so you can be represented throughout irrespective of your financial circumstances. Other family members (including grandparents, aunts and uncles) may qualify for legal aid depending on the circumstances. Please contact us for further advice about this.
When social services have concerns about the welfare of a child to the extent that they are considering taking the case to court, this is known as the ‘pre-proceedings’ or the ‘Public Law Outline’ (PLO) process. Social services send a letter sometimes known as a ‘PLO letter’, ‘pre-proceedings letter’ or ‘letter before proceedings’. This should set out the concerns of the local authority and also the expectations you must meet in order to avoid court proceedings being issued.
The letter will invite you to a meeting known as a ‘PLO meeting’ or ‘pre-proceedings meeting’. As solicitors, our job is to advise and support you before, during and after the meeting and help negotiate an agreement to try to avoid the need to go to court. We will listen to what you have to say, advise you and attend meetings to represent you.
When a child is deemed to be at risk, the local authority can apply to the court for an interim care order to safeguard the child. If this happens, a guardian will be appointed to represent the interests of the child in the proceedings.
A care order is an order which places a child under the protection of social services. It gives social services parental responsibility and the power to remove a child into foster care whilst the local authority assesses your parenting ability and carries out further investigations. If a final care order is made it will remain in force until the child reaches the age of 18 or earlier if the court orders.
A supervision order is an order which requires a child to be supervised by social services, while still in the family home (or placed with a relative), to make sure that the child is well cared for. When this is not possible or no longer seen as possible or is no longer deemed in the best interests of the child, then a care order can be sought by a local authority. Social services have duties under a supervision order which are as follows:
- To advise, befriend and assist the child
- To take steps that are necessary to give the order full effect
- If the order is not followed, or the supervisor feels that the order is no longer needed, to consider whether to vary the order, attach requirements to it, or even substitute it for a Care Order.
An emergency protection order (EPO) is an order issued by a Court with the aim of protecting a child from ongoing or imminent risk of physical, mental or emotional harm where emergency action is needed. Subject to certain exceptions, it can be made for a maximum period of eight days. An EPO allows the local authority to remove the child from his/her home, or prevent the child’s removal from hospital or other safe place.
At the conclusion of court proceedings, the court may grant a special guardianship order (SGO) to someone other than the child’s parents, giving the child a permanent home. This is an order which states that the child will live with the special guardian until the age of 18. The SGO will give the special guardian parental responsibility of the child. The guardian does not have to consult the parents with day-to-day decisions in respect of the child although he/she cannot change the name of the child, take the child out of the country for more than three months or agree to the child being placed for adoption. Unlike with adoption, the child legally remains part of the birth family.
Adoption can take place either through a voluntary agency or through the adoption service of a local authority. When a final care order and placement order has been made following court proceedings, social services will try to find a suitable family to adopt the child. Once such a family is found, the child will be placed with the family and an application will be made for an adoption order. Once the adoption order is made, it is permanent and cannot be reversed. It terminates the parental responsibility of the birth parents.