Coronavirus - children in care and care proceedings
Our children law solicitors and lawyers have substantial experience in proceedings relating to Public Law children matters. Here we provide answers to the questions that our lawyers are regularly being asked.
Social Services / the Local Authority are making an application to the Court in relation to my child – what can I do?
Applications for Care, Supervision and Emergency Protection Orders continue to be made by the Local Authority.
These cases will continue to be dealt with by the courts, even in the current climate. If you are a parent or person that holds parental responsibility for a child who is the subject of care proceedings, then you automatically qualify for legal aid, regardless of your financial circumstances.
If you receive notification from the Local Authority that you are being invited to intervene in Care Proceedings then it is essential, where possible, you secure legal representation – eligibility for legal aid in these circumstances differs, and you can discuss your eligibility further with us.
The important point to note is you should immediately contact a family law solicitor immediately who specialises in Care Proceedings as and they can advise you further on your case.
Please see our link to further guides available which are published on our website.
I am involved in Care Proceedings at the moment – what will happen to my case?
There has been an inevitable backlog of cases to be heard which arose as a result of many multi-day hearings being moved to later in the year. The Court Service has worked tirelessly to address this issue including updating guidance from the President of the Family Division being provided in “The Road Ahead” document https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/The-Road-Ahead_FINAL.pdf. The courts have also brought in more part-time judges, both Recorders and Deputy District Judges, in order to try and deal with the backlog of cases.
In Kent at the start of the coronavirus pandemic the courts promoted utilising telephone hearings where possible. The courts have now developed their own video platform, known as Cloud Video Platform or CVP. Whilst there were some initial issues, this platform is gradually becoming used for more hearings. A telephone conferencing service is also still utilised. CVP is being used more for longer / contested hearings whereas telephone conferencing tends to be used for simple / short case management hearings. A guide to CVP can be accessed on the HMCTS website at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/how-to-join-a-cloud-video-platform-cvp-hearing/how-to-join-cloud-video-platform-cvp-for-a-video-hearing. You will need a laptop with Chrome installed or you can download an App on your phone or tablet. It would be advisable to discuss the available options with your solicitor for specific hearings.
Where you do not have access to CVP at home, the Local Authority are making rooms available and equipment in their offices to enable parties to engage fully in proceedings.
In certain circumstances attendance at court is also possible for hearings, subject to restrictions on the number who can attend the court building, and longer hearings are now developing a hybrid system whereby professional witnesses are being joined via CVP. Lay parties are being allowed to give evidence before a judge face-to-face in the courtroom. You should discuss this option with your legal representative to establish what is available and the current Covid-19 restrictions in place for the court building.
Local practice is differing between geographical locations and your solicitor will be able to advise you further on what the local courts have agreed.
I have received a letter from Social Services / the Local Authority saying they want to have a pre-proceedings or PLO meeting with me about my child – what should I do?
If the local authority considers the current home situation to be a concern for the child involved but still wants to avoid going to court they may decide to start the ‘pre-proceedings process’ or ‘PLO process’.
Please refer to our guide for further details.
Parents or family members with parental responsibility for the child concerned are automatically entitled to legal aid if they receive a “letter before proceedings”. Your legal aid will cover advice for the meeting(s) and your solicitor’s attendance at the meeting with you.
In Kent meetings continue to be convened both by telephone conference call and by video conferencing – the practicalities of these options will be discussed on a case by case basis in order to ensure you are fully engaged in the meeting.
My child has been removed from my care – can I still see them?
The law states that the local authority must promote reasonable contact with their parents and, in certain situations, other family members (whether directly or indirectly).
A Local Authority can refuse to facilitate contact with a child in care if they are satisfied that it is necessary to do so in order to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare AND it is an extremely urgent situation. However, such refusal can only last for 7 days. After the 7 day period the Local Authority must issue an application to the court to withhold contact.
We are seeing in Kent that currently all direct contact has been suspended with children over the age of 3 and is being replaced with indirect contact – either telephone or video calls. This is due to the current government Covid-19 social distancing recommendations, and will therefore remain under review in line with government advice that is published. It is likely that more frequent but shorter contact times will be agreed during the week at this moment in time.
There may remain a need to supervise some of this contact even if it is by telephone or video. This is likely to take place either by way of the child’s current carer being present, or a contact supervisor may be joined to the telephone / video call to observe. If anyone present requires an interpreter this can easily be arranged by the local authority and they too will be dialled in.
If your child is under the age of 3, in Kent there are selected contact centres remaining open and your solicitor will be able to speak with the local authority to find out what arrangements are proposed. You should note that it is likely your contact frequency may be reduced given the number of people requiring this resource and the number of staff available to help.
More local authority centres are gradually opening up, giving more available time and flexibility for all children to be having direct contact. However, resources remain limited as the centres are limited by the number of people being allowed on the premises as well as each contact room having to be deep cleaned between each contact session. Some contact is taking place outside in the community but this again is dependent up whether a supervisor can be made available as well as the weather.
I am not happy with what contact is being proposed with my child who is in Care – can this be challenged?
If your child is subject to a s.20 placement – this placement is by consent and therefore the local authority do not have legal orders in place to restrict your contact. You should contact a solicitor if you do not have one to discuss your options further. It is likely the current Covid-19 restrictions may dictate to an extent what contact can take place.
If your child is subject to live court proceedings - you are entitled to challenge any arrangements proposed and this should be discussed with your solicitor who can advise you on the merits of any necessary application to be made.
If your child is not currently subject to live court proceedings and a final Care Order has previously been made – you may be entitled to legal aid in order to make an application to the court for contact with a child in care.
At Boys & Maughan we can assist with any of the above issues, wherever you may be located in England and Wales. Please do not hesitate to contact us and one of our Care Team will speak with you to see what help we can provide.