The care proceedings process can be complex and a number of different people may become involved. If you really want to understand what is going on in the care proceedings concerning your child, it’s important to know who’s who.
Children’s Guardian – A children’s guardian is an independent person appointed by the court to work out what the best thing would be for the children and to give them a voice before the court. They are appointed by CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory Service). They do not work for the local authority, education, health authorities etc. Their job involves meeting the children subject to the proceedings, meeting with the parents and other members of the family where necessary and other professionals involved in the care of the children. Depending on the issues in the case and the age of the children this may include health, education, doctors etc.
The guardian will consider all of the evidence in the case that is before the court and alongside their own discussions that they have they then write a report for the court saying what they think would be in the best interests of the children and provide their recommendation to the court. A children’s guardian will instruct a solicitor to represent the children in the court proceedings.
Children’s Services – This is the part of the local authority that deals with all the local authority’s services for children. It used to be known as “social services” and this term is still commonly seen.
Judge – A judge is the person who makes the decisions in the court proceedings unless the case has been considered appropriate to be dealt with by the magistrates.
Magistrate – Magistrates make decisions in family proceedings courts where the case has been determined as appropriate to be dealt with by them. Normally, there are three magistrates who work as a “bench”. This means they make decisions together.
Family Group Conference A Family Group Conference is a meeting that brings together friends and extended family in a situation where there is a problem in a family, usually involving a child. An independent person called a coordinator brings the family and friends together in order for them to discuss the issues and any support than can be offered by the family members for the benefit of the child. Minutes are usually kept of these meetings. It is a good opportunity for all of the family and friends to discuss what support is needed by a family and who might be able to offer it. It means that the family and friends can all be involved in formulating a plan of support.
Guardian ad litem (literally a guardian “at law”) Legal matters can be difficult to understand. If the court does not think that you can make decisions about the court case, the court may decide that you need a “guardian ad litem” who can tell your solicitor what to do on your behalf. A guardian must ask you about what you want but must make decisions in your best interests. A guardian ad litem can only make decisions about what is happening in your court case. When there is nobody else able and willing, the official solicitor can act as guardian if asked by the court to do so. The official solicitor will only do so where they are satisfied that the person that they are being asked to help does not have litigation capacity.
Solicitor/barrister A solicitor or barrister is someone qualified in the law who helps people put their side of the story in court and in other situations where they need help. This may include asking for further assessments and challenging the evidence that is presented before the court. Solicitors and barristers are sometimes called lawyers.