Why do I have to go court?
If you don’t agree with the local authority’s view on how you should change the way you look after your child, or don’t keep to an agreement you have made with them, or your local authority continues to have concerns about the way you look after your child, your local authority will almost certainly apply to the court about your child. They will ask the court for permission to take your child into care or to get legal rights to make decisions about your child’s life and what they do.
If your local authority thinks your child is in serious danger of being harmed, they can apply to court at any time without making an agreement.
How do I know when to go?
Your solicitor will tell you. The local authority may also send you a letter. You may not get much warning, but you must still attend.
What happens at court?
At court, the judge or magistrates will ask your local authority to explain why they think your child should be taken into care. You will also be asked what you think. In general, you should let your solicitor answer the questions, because they know how to put your points across in the right way. But sometimes the judge or magistrate will speak to you.
Because cases about taking children into care are very important, you will normally go to court more than once. After you go for the first time, the judge or magistrate will want to get more information. They may ask for some assessments to be made to help them decide.
Who decides what happens to my child?
The judge or magistrates decide what happens – not your local authority.
What decisions can they make?
They can decide that:
your child will stay with you
your child will move to live with a friend or family member
your child will go into care
you have a right to argue against this in court
Who will be at court?
A judge or magistrates
You and your solicitor
Your local authority’s solicitor
Your child’s social worker
A children’s guardian (see below)
Your child’s solicitor.
In general, your child should not go to court with you, but sometimes the judge may want to see your child.
What is a children’s guardian and why must my child meet one?
A children’s guardian is appointed by the court to work out what the best thing would be for your child. They do not work for your local authority.
Their job involves meeting your child, meeting you and other members of your family. They may also meet your child’s teacher, social worker and doctor. By talking to all these people, they try to work out:
what your child thinks about the way they are looked after
where your child would like to live.
They then write a report for the court setting out your child’s views and saying what they think would be best for your child. Their view may not be the same as what your child says they want.
Why does my child need their own solicitor?
To make sure your child’s views are heard by the judge or magistrates, your child should have their own solicitor. Normally, the children’s guardian will appoint a solicitor for your child and give the solicitor their report. The solicitor will then use this report to explain your child’s views.
If your child is old enough, they will be allowed to speak to their solicitor directly.
What assessments will a court ask for and why?
A court can ask for lots of different assessments of you and your child. For example:
The court can ask for assessments of your child’s health or development
If you agree they can ask for your child to visit a child psychologist or education expert.
If you agree, they can also ask for you to be assessed by health or mental health experts.
They can ask for your family members to be assessed to see if any of them would be able to look after your child.
The court does this to try and find out all the facts about you and your child to help make the right decision.
If the court asks you to go to an assessment, or allow your child to be assessed, you must do it. If you don’t, the court will want to know why and may have to make a decision about your child without this information.
How long does it take?
It normally takes about nine to twelve months for a court to decide what will happen to your child.
What happens to my child until the court makes a decision?
Until the court makes a final decision, it will decide if your child will either:
stay with you
stay with a member of your family, or
be taken into care
This depends on whether the court thinks your child is in danger of being harmed if they stay with you in the short term. If your child is taken into care, you will normally be allowed to see them. The local authority must agree with you when you can see your child. If your child stays with you, you are responsible for making sure your child goes to all the appointments arranged for them.
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