Understanding the process when children are taken into care
Courts put the child’s interest first, but you have a right for your views to be listened to and considered
Coping with the aftermath of having your children removed by social services, or even being accommodated by the local authority under a voluntary (Section 20) agreement, is a very painful experience for parents and close relatives. This can be a very traumatic experience for the children and their families.
Understanding the process
Before deciding to remove your child into care because of concerns about abuse or neglect (sometimes referred to as ‘safeguarding’), unless there is an emergency situation, you will probably have been involved in child protection meetings. At the point that social services seriously consider applying to the court for a Care Order (compulsory removal into care) they should have notified you and held a ‘pre-proceedings meeting’ or sent you a ‘letter of intent’ to go to court. At this stage you may want to get in touch with a solicitor to assist you with legal advice throughout the process. Even if social services think your child should be in care, unless they have grounds to think that it is dangerous for him or her to remain with you, they should apply for an Interim Care Order and not remove your child unless the Court makes an order. The social worker may ask if you will agree to your child being voluntarily looked after until the position is clearer, but you should always seek independent advice, preferably from a solicitor, if you have any doubts about whether this is a good idea. The organisation called the Family Rights Group may also be able to give you some advice.
Immediate concerns for child safety
If there have been immediate concerns for your child’s safety, social services may have involved the police and there might not have been time for them to apply for a court order to remove your children. In this situation your child can stay in police protection for 72 hours at the most. If an Emergency Protection Order (EPO) has been made by the Court your child then becomes a looked after child and this order lasts for 8 days, with an extension of 7 further days possible. If you don’t already have a solicitor, it’s important to try and get one immediately or seek legal advice.
Where your child may go
Children’s Services should first see if your child can be cared for by someone in your family and if this isn’t an option then unrelated foster care or a children’s home will be considered. If they are placed with a relative, that person has to be assessed as a foster carer by Children’s Services, although there is a process for temporary approval so that the child can move in before a full assessment has taken place. If no relative or friend can care for your child, they will stay with an approved foster carer or in a children’s home. If your child is very young, the social worker may decide that your child can live with a foster family who will then go on to apply to adopt him or her (sometimes called a fost-adopt family or a ‘concurrent planning’ family. If you do not want your child to be adopted, you should consult a solicitor immediately.
What may happen next
Following an EPO, if there are still concerns for your child’s safety, an Interim Care Order or a Full Care Order, made by the Court, or the agreement of someone with parental responsibility for your child to continue living in the accommodation found for them, is needed (referred to as Section 20 accommodation or ‘voluntary care’. But if you really do not want your child to be living away from you, you should say you don’t agree and make sure you get advice from a solicitor. You can appeal against a Care Order, but you need to know that these are not often successful. There are limited reasons allowed for an appeal and you need to move fast if you want to explore this, so it would be advisable to speak to a solicitor as soon as you can.
The safety and security of your child will be paramount, but the social worker should try to do all they can to cause as little disruption to their life as possible and should listen to your and your child’s views and take them seriously. Factors such as being able to live with their siblings or continue to go to the same school should always be taken into consideration. If you have concerns about where your child is living, speak to your social worker and explain why and discuss any possible alternative there may be. If you are still unhappy you could ask to speak to the Independent Review Officer (IRO) who will be appointed as soon as the child starts to be looked after. He or she should be in touch with you in any case shortly after your child starts to be looked after and at least every six months, but if you are unhappy about something in-between reviews and you don’t think the social worker is taking your concerns seriously, you can ask to see the IRO between reviews
You should be given a copy of your child’s care plan (sometimes referred to as a ‘permanence plan’) and the placement plan that has more details about the actual placement, and you should be consulted about what is in it, and especially about contact arrangements for yourself, other relatives, and brothers and sisters who are not living in the same place. The permanence plan may propose that your child should leave care to be adopted or be placed permanently with a ’special guardians’- usually but not always a relative. These arrangements have to be approved by a court and you have a right to legal aid, so it is really important that you appoint and stay in touch with your own solicitor. The court will appoint a Guardian ad Litem to give an independent view about what should happen, and this person, as well as the child’s social worker, should make sure that the court is also aware of your views. The court must always put the child’s interest first, but you have a right for your views to be listened to and taken into consideration.
The Family Rights Group is a charity providing advice, information and advocacy to parents and families whose children are involved with Children’s Services due to welfare needs or concerns. They have comprehensive advice sheets on their website and also a telephone advice line.
Whatever might have led up to your children being removed from your care, it’s understandable that your emotions might be in total turmoil, with lots of answered questions running through your head. Having support around you – close family or friends who you can lean on can be comforting. Family Lives’ confidential helpline 0808 800 2222, offers a listening ear and emotional support, and is here for you too so please don’t hesitate to contact them (details below).
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Bounty is proud to bring you this information in partnership with www.familylives.org.uk. Family Lives is a charity with over three decades’ experience helping parents to deal with the changes that are a constant part of family life.
Comments on this article are monitored but NOT answered. However, Family Lives has extensive advice on their website, live chat services, and information about befriending services and parenting/relationship support groups. There is also a helpline and an online community forum offering a safe space for families to share dilemmas, experiences and issues with others who understand the ups and downs of family life. https://www.familylives.org.uk/how-we-can-help/forum-community/