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At the beginning of the pre-proceedings process they will tell you what they want you to do so that they do not need to go to court. They should then support you and help you to do what they have asked for.
The process is supposed to last for a maximum of six months. During that six months they will have regular meetings with you and your solicitor to talk about your progress. Your solicitor can help to stand up for you and get you the right support.
At the end of the process hopefully the Local Authority will decide that they do not need to go to court anymore. If they decide that they do then they will have to issue an application to court and it will be up to the court to decide whether to make a Care or other Order.
Legal aid is available for those involved in the pre-proceedings process and during care proceedings.
What is a Care Order?
A Care Order is an order made by the court which gives parental responsibility to the Local Authority. Their parental responsibility would override the parents’ so they can make decisions about the children. For example, they can decide where the children should live, including putting them into foster care. The Local Authority should still speak to the parents about any major decisions in the children’s lives and should listen to their views. However, they are able to make the final decision and they do not have to do what the parents want.
What is a Supervision Order?
A Supervision Order is an order made by the court which gives the Local Authority a duty to advise, assist and befriend a child and their family. This essentially means they should give you help and support in being a parent. This order does not give the Local Authority parental responsibility so the final decision is still up to the parents (or anyone else with parental responsibility).
What is a Special Guardianship Order?
A Special Guardianship Order gives the holder parental responsibility for a child. This parental responsibility overrides the parents’ parental responsibility, so any final decisions are up to them. Normally, Special Guardianship Orders are made where the court thinks that a child should live with someone other than their parents, for example with their grandparents. However, the Special Guardian does not need to be a family member. They may be a long-term foster carer for the child, or a family friend.
What is adoption?
When a child is adopted, their adoptive parents become their legal parents and all legal ties to their birth family end. The adoptive parents get parental responsibility and the birth parents lose their parental responsibility. Sometimes adoption orders are made by the court where the court thinks that it is best for a child not to live with either of their birth parents or family members. They can also be made sometimes when a step-parent wants to become a child’s legal parent. This can make a child and step-parent feel more secure in their relationship.
Social services are involved with my children, can I get legal aid?
If Social Services become involved with your children it can be a stressful time and you might not be sure what to do. You might even feel powerless against them and unsure of your rights. A solicitor can give you advice and guidance to help you through the process.
You might be eligible for free legal advice through legal aid. Whether you can depends on what stage Social Services involvement with you has reached:
- If they have gone to court to apply for a Care or Supervision Order then you are automatically eligible for legal aid if you are the child’s mother or father or you have parental responsibility for the child.
- If they have sent you a letter to say they are going to go through the pre-proceedings process then you are automatically eligible for legal aid if you are the child’s mother or father or you have parental responsibility for the child.
- If they have become involved with your family but have not sent you a letter about pre-proceedings or applied to court for a Care or Supervision Order then you may still be eligible for legal aid. To be eligible a solicitor will need to assess your means (i.e. your finances) and the merits of your application (i.e. whether you need a solicitor’s advice and your chances of success). Your solicitor can tell you what they will need in order to be able to assess your eligibility for legal aid.
If the Local Authority has applied to court for a Care or Supervision Order and you are not the child’s parent and do not have parental responsibility, for example you are the child’s grandparent, you may still be able to get help with your legal costs. The Local Authority may agree to pay or you may be eligible for legal aid. To be eligible for legal aid a solicitor will need to assess your means (i.e. your finances) and the merits of your application (i.e. whether you need a solicitor’s advice and your chances of success). Talk to one of our solicitors to see whether you might be eligible.