A Guide to Child Care Law in the UK
Child care law in the UK is an extremely complex field which is constantly changing. We take a look at the sensitive area of care proceedings, explaining the terminology and outlining the availability of legal aid, and also cover the legalities surrounding fostering and adoption.
If a Local Authority is concerned about the welfare of a child, they can decide to issue care proceedings. The first thing they might do is to apply for an interim care order or interim supervision order which lasts for 8 weeks and gives the Local Authority shared parental responsibility of the child. In extreme cases an emergency protection order can be sought, allowing the Local Authority to remove the child from their parents, which lasts for up to eight days and can be extended by the court once for a further seven days.
A letter before proceedings is sent to the parents which explains the reasons for the action and details any steps already taken. A public law outline (PLO) meeting will then take place, at which the Local Authority will explain their intentions and give the parents an opportunity to respond to the proposed action.
After this meeting, the Local Authority may decide to go to court and apply for a care order or supervision order. However, before making one of these orders the court will have to be convinced that the following are both true:
I. The child has suffered or been at risk of suffering significant harm as a result of their parenting
II. It is in the child’s best interests to make that order.
There are various factors which need to be taken into account when assessing the best interests of a child, including their physical, emotional and educational needs and the likely effect on the child of any change in their circumstances.
After hearing the case, the court may decide to make a care order, which places the child in the care of the Local Authority. Alternatively, it can make a supervision order which requires the Local Authority to advise, assist and befriend the child. It can also choose to make a child arrangement order(formerly known as a residence order) which defines who a child can live with or make a special guardianship order which essentially means that a child will live with a guardian on a long-term basis who will take on the majority share of parental responsibility.
Care proceedings should take no longer than 26 weeks from the date of the proceedings being issued to the date a decision is made about the long term arrangements for the child. However, in exceptional circumstances the process can take longer.
Legal Aid is available for any parent facing care proceedings. This is non means and non merits tested and can be provided once the Local Authority has sent out a letter before proceedings.
A child who is being cared for by the Local Authority may be placed into foster care. The foster carers do not have parental responsibility for the child but offer the child a place in their home and have responsibility for the daily care of the child. Anyone who wants to become a foster carer must be assessed and approved by their Local Authority, even if they are relatives, friends or other people connected to the child or their family. However, temporary approval for fostering, also known as a regulation 24 placement, can allow the Local Authority to place a child with a family member or friend in an emergency situation for up to 16 weeks, without a full assessment, provided certain basic checks have been carried out.
Adoption is the assumption of full legal and parental responsibility for a child. A Local Authority can act as an adoption agency in order to arrange adoptions. It must apply for a placement order in order to be able to place a child for adoption unless it has gained formal consent from the parents. Only a court can make the process of adoption legally binding by making an adoption order. This officially ends the child's legal relationships with their birth family and gives them new legal parents. Adoption involves the permanent transfer of parental responsibility and the birth parents will no longer have any legal rights or responsibilities regarding the child.
Author: Muna Saleem