Where a Local Authority has very serious concerns about a child’s welfare, it can ask the Family Court to make a Care Order. If the application is successful it means that the Local Authority acquires parental responsibility for the child and can restrict the exercise of parental responsibility by anyone else who holds it for the child (usually their parents, but sometimes step parents and others caring for a child acquire it).
To satisfy the test for a Care Order, the Local Authority must show that:
(a) The child is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm; and
(b) That the harm, or likelihood of harm, is attributable to-
a. The care given to the child, or likely to be given to him if the order were not made, not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give to him; or
b. The child’s being beyond parental control.
The legislation about Care Orders applies to all children under 17, not just those with special educational needs or disabilities. The normal “run of the mill” care proceedings are for children who lack (identified) special educational needs who are not being properly cared for by their parents. Social workers are trained in these sorts of cases, to look for children who are being abused by their parents or where their parents are not protecting them from abuse by others.
Care proceedings can end up being brought for disabled children for a variety of reasons:
Sometimes there are major misunderstandings by Social Workers of appropriate care for disabled children and they proceed along a “safeguarding…child protection…care proceedings” route because they disagree with decisions made by parents and are unwilling to listen to reason or professional advice outside of the context of Court proceedings.
Sometimes there are substantive concerns about how disabled children are being cared for; the demands of caring for very disabled children poses an enormous strain on families and things don’t always go to plan. However, in nearly all of these cases, there is a major contributing factor, namely, wholly inadequate support for the child and their family by Social Services. Such cases are very capable of being successfully defended.
Sometimes a child’s behaviour is very difficult to manage and the LA want to argue that the child is “beyond parental control” and that they should therefore have parental responsibility for the child. [This is not all of the test – they additionally have to show that the child is suffering significant harm and where a child has been placed in specialist residential placement that caters for their difficulties, they are not usually at risk of suffering significant harm].
Sometimes, a Local Authority brings Care Proceedings for reasons that really have nothing to do with the child and are much more about the Local Authority wanting to avoid Judicial criticism for failing to bring Care Proceedings when they should.
In very rare cases, Care Proceedings do seem to be brought as “punishment” or as a way of “keeping the parents in line” or to give the LA “better control” over the child when the LA is spending a large sum on the child’s education, when parents are being appropriately forthright about securing appropriate provision for their child. This happens, but is rare and should not put any parent off seeking to secure appropriate provision for their child, because these proceedings can be successfully defended.
Whilst we do not deal with “standard issue” care proceedings, we are knowledgeable in dealing with care proceedings where a child has significant special educational needs and/or disabilities. This is unique expertise, which we have because of our knowledge of disability that family law specialists do not usually have.
We are always happy to assist parents who are having difficult dealings with Social Workers; we have a good success rate in discouraging them from taking matters further from Child Protection Meetings or Pre-Proceedings Meetings and in defending Care Proceedings when they ultimately choose to bring them.