A recent BBC documentary series entitled ‘Protecting our Children' followed social workers and their involvement with severalfamilies. Here, Charlotte Digby from the QualitySolicitors FJG family team looks at the legal situations and issues covered over the three episodes of the documentary.
When social services become involved with a family, a social worker is appointed to work with a family and offer support. A solicitor acting for the parents will normally deal with the local authority solicitor, who provides advice to the social worker.
The first programme in the BBC series follows a family bringing up a three year old with learning difficulties, who need help to improve their parenting skills and
the conditions of their home. At this stage, legal advice and assistance is available to parents, subject to a means test. A solicitor can advise on possible legal outcomes.
In cases of serious concern, social services may call a Child Protection Conference to consider putting in place a formal Child Protection Plan. If a plan is adopted, regular review conferences will be held to monitor the family's progress and to discuss the available support. A solicitor can sometimes accompany parents to the conferences to make sure that the parents' point of view is put across, though their role is limited to that of adviser and friend. These are not Court proceedings. It is always beneficial to consult a solicitor beforehand so parents have an understanding of the procedure and possible outcomes. The series alsotouches on a ‘S20 Agreement', a voluntary
agreement between parents and the local authority to place their child into foster care whilst assessments or investigations are carried out. It is vital to seek legal advice before consenting to a S20 agreement to ensure that this is the correct solution for this child. Sometimes S20 agreements can result in children remaining in foster care longer then they should.
Sometimes there may be a Public Law Outline (PLO) meeting, just before Court proceedings are issued. The PLO process is initiated when matters are not progressing on the child protection plan and the local authority still have serious concerns. It will consider what can be done to prevent the case from progressing to Court proceedings. Parents will be entitled to non-means tested advice under the Legal Help Scheme and to have a solicitor present with them at the meeting. A local authority will issue care proceedings to remove a child when they feel a child is at risk of significant harm if they remain in their current home. All parents are entitled to free Legal Aid if care proceedings are issued and should seek immediate advice from a solicitor as they will need legal representation throughout the Court process. Good legal guidance can significantly affect the outcome of all stages of children proceedings, for the benefit of parents and their children.
For further information, get in touch with our family law experts
01206 835320/578282 or 01255 323103
Useful link: FamilyLaw@qsfjg.co.uk