The number of children being looked after in care has increased steadily over the last seven years and is now higher than at any point since 1985, according to recent statistics released by the government. Although, the care process may seem very complicated to parents and guardians, Mark Hawkins, partner and children’s law specialist at Tallents Solicitors in Mansfield, offers an insight.

“The safety and welfare of a child is of utmost importance and it is only when a Local Authority has concerns for a child or young person, that they may decide to begin care proceedings to safeguard the child.

“This process can be overwhelming for parents and guardians, but the family and child care law specialists at Tallents Solicitors are here to help you understand what is happening. Public funding (legal aid) may be available for the parents to be represented in the proceedings.”

Mark continues: “A phrase that parents and guardians will hear regularly during Care Proceedings is that of a ‘looked after child’.”

But what is a looked after child?

Under the Children Act 1989, a child is legally defined as ‘looked after’ by a local authority if he or she:
  • – is provided with accommodation for a continuous period for more than 24 hours
  • – is subject to a Care Order or Voluntary Agreement; or
  • – is subject to a Placement Order.
Mark explains some of the different types of Child-related Orders that are likely to be sought:
  • – Care Order – this is defined as an Order made by the Court on application by the Local Authority, or an authorised person to place a child in the care of a Local Authority.
  • – Supervision Order – this is an order directing the Local Authority to advise, assist and befriend a child whilst the child remains living with parents or carers.
  • – S20 Voluntary Agreement – this allows the Local Authority to provide accommodation for a child which will safeguard or promote the their welfare, if: • there is no one with parental responsibility for the child, • the child has been abandoned or lost; or • the person who had been looking after the child is no longer able to provide suitable accommodation or care.
This agreement is often sought by the Local Authority to avoid the need to commence court proceedings immediately. Legal advice should always be sought at this stage if such an agreement is presented to you. Placement Order – the Local Authority may apply to the Court for this order, which allows them to place a child for adoption; usually following the making of a Care Order. Mark adds that Special Guardianship Orders may also be used to place children with grandparents or other family members for the remainder of the child’s minority. Mark finishes:

“Our specialists in Family and Child Care law at Mansfield and Newark are here to help parents and carers through this stressful process. When you contact us, we will listen to the specifics of your case and work with you to find the best solution for your children and you to the problems you are facing.

“We also offer a free, drop-in family law clinic at our Southwell office from 5-7pm on Tuesdays for anyone with family law concerns that they wish to discuss.”