How can our child care solicitors help you?
Our specialist London solicitors are experienced in providing advice from the very start of social services involvement. We will assess whether you are financially eligible under the Legal Help scheme to advise you on issues that have brought your family to social services’ attention.
We find that early advice can help to resolve the situation and we will advise you what steps to take to try and avoid care proceedings being brought to court. Please contact us if social services have decided to assess your family, where social services have decided to convene a Child Protection Case Conference or if you need advice about social services procedures. Social services may become involved with you even before your child has been born and we can advise in all such situations.
The Pre-Proceedings process is often started if social services are considering issuing court proceedings regarding your child. This process is also referred to as the PLO process.
When social services start this process, they will send you a letter called a PLO letter explaining their concerns about your care of the child and what they are asking you to do to avoid court proceedings. As soon as you receive this type of letter, you can receive free legal advice.
You can recognise a PLO letter because it should have in bold at the top of the letter a phrase like, ‘Letter before Proceedings’ or ‘Intention to start Proceedings’. The letter will usually set out the concerns that the social workers have, what they feel they have done to assist you and what they want you to do in the future. The letter often says that if you don’t do the things that they are asking you to do then it is likely they will start court proceedings.
Both parents, and anyone else with parental responsibility for a child, should receive a PLO letter. Social services usually invite you to attend a meeting with them and their lawyer to discuss the letter. We can attend the meeting with you and advise you how to try and prevent social services taking your case to court.
It is very important to contact a solicitor as soon as possible if you receive a PLO letter.
If social services have really urgent concerns about your children, then it can apply to court for an Emergency Protection Order (EPO). Social services will have to prove to the court that there are reasons to believe that that your child is going to suffer significant harm if they are not placed into the care of social services or kept in a safe place.
An EPO means social services can give immediate short-term protection to a child. At the first hearing the court can’t make an order for longer than 8 days, the order can be extended but only for a maximum of 7 days. Usually at this stage social services will start care proceedings so the court can consider the longer-term arrangements for your child’s care.
An EPO gives social services Parental Responsibility for your child during the length of the order, so social services can make any decisions for your child that are necessary to keep your child safe and well. Social services can’t make any long-term decisions about your child under an EPO. An EPO doesn’t take away Parental Responsibility from anyone who already holds it.
The court will arrange a hearing within a few hours of social services making an EPO application, so please contact us immediately if you are told about an application. All our specialist solicitors are experienced in applications for EPOs and understand that they are very stressful; they can represent you at court at very short notice and guide you through the process.
If the EPO application is about your child then you are automatically entitled to free legal advice and representation at all court hearings.
If social services start court proceedings for a care order this can result in your children being removed from your care either temporarily or sometimes permanently. The local authority will have to prove to the court that your child has suffered significant harm or will do so if your child remains with you. The court has to make decisions that are in the best interests of the child.
These proceedings are very complex and it is essential that you have high quality specialist representation to guide you through the case. All of our child care solicitors specialise in this area of law and have experience of cases involving allegations of serious sexual or physical abuse and neglect. We are familiar with the work of the Family Drug and Alcohol Court and are experienced in representing parents who agree to be part of this specialist scheme.
We will usually represent you in court ourselves or ensure that a specialist barrister is appointed to your case. You will always be eligible to receive free legal aid in these cases regardless of your financial means.
If your child is subject to care proceedings, we can advise you about the arrangements to see your child whilst the proceedings are ongoing.
If the court ultimately decides that your child should be permanently removed from your care, the plan for you to see your child should be set out in your child’s final care plan. Sometimes, following care proceedings, your child’s circumstances may change and you may need further advice about having contact with your child. In some cases, it may be advisable to make a formal court application to have contact with your child and we have experience of making these kinds of applications. We may be able to provide free advise under the Legal Help Scheme if you are on a low income or receive certain benefits. If we think that you have a good case to take to court, we can apply for legal aid on your behalf to make an application to the court.
If your child has been permanently removed from your care and placed in foster care you may want advice about whether you can make an application to the court for your child to be returned to your care. To make this kind of application you would need to show a change in circumstances. As a result, the timing of a discharge application is often very important. You can read more about this here.
If you are on a low income or receive certain benefits, we may be able to provide you with free legal advice under the Legal Help scheme. If we think that you have a good case to take to court, we can apply for legal aid on your behalf to make an application to the court.
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