Child Care Proceedings and Social Services, Northern Ireland
What are Care Proceedings?
If you’re expecting a visit from social services or have received paperwork about care proceedings you’re probably feeling anxious and confused. We will explain everything you need to know about your situation and how to respond. Care proceedings in Northern Ireland start when social services are concerned about the safety or well-being of a child and apply to court for a care order. A care order gives approval for social services to protect a child from harm in a variety of different ways.
Why do Social Services get involved?
Social services will usually get involved because they have concerns about a child’s welfare. This is typically because a school or nursery, healthcare professional, family member, neighbour or somebody else has raised concerns that have led to an investigation. Social services will investigate areas of concern such as:
Abuse: A child is suffering the effects of physical, emotional, sexual or substance abuse.
Neglect: A child’s medical, emotional or basic human needs are not being met.
Illness: Parents or guardians are unable to look after a child due to physical or mental illness.
Abandonment: A child has been abandoned or left alone for an extended period of time.
Remember that untrue and unwarranted allegations have to be treated just as seriously by social services as genuine cases. It’s important to get in touch with us for legal advice as soon as possible so we can guide you on the best course of action.
Care Proceedings Court Process
When you get in touch with our care proceedings solicitors as soon as social services become involved with your family, we can try to resolve the situation before it gets to court. But going to court is necessary in certain cases. This is what to expect of the care proceedings process in Northern Ireland.
Step 1. Pre-Proceedings Letter You will receive a letter that details the concerns that social services have and any action taken so far to mitigate those concerns. It will invite you to attend a pre-proceedings meeting within seven days of receiving the letter. We can advise you on what to do and help you to prepare for the meeting
Step 2. Pre-Proceedings Meeting The pre-proceedings meeting is an opportunity to put in place a plan that addresses social services’ concerns. We can represent you in this meeting and help to form a plan that brings the matter to an end at this stage. Our fees for the meeting will be covered by Legal Aid regardless of your income.
Step 3. Preparing for a First Hearing If the case does go to court, you will need to prepare a response document. We can help you to write what you have to say about social services’ concerns and provide guidance so you can prepare for the hearing.
Step 4. Case Management Hearing This is usually the first court hearing. The case management hearing will review the main details of the case, review the care plan for your child and set a timetable for the case. Again, we can represent you at the hearing.
Step 5. Issue Resolution Hearing The next hearing is an opportunity to put in place a long-term plan that addresses social services’ concerns. If a plan can be put in place, the case will be concluded early. We will represent you and help to negotiate a plan that all parties will agree to.
Step 6. Final Hearing If a plan isn’t agreed, the case will go to a final hearing. The court will make decisions on the best long-term care arrangements for a child, who the child should have contact with and how regularly, and whether a court order is needed to put those arrangements in place. Our legal support can be vital in shaping those decisions.
No matter what stage in the care proceedings process you’re currently at, we can help you. The sooner you get in touch, the more options we have available.
We’re experienced family law solicitors with strong experience of helping parents facing the tremendous stress of care proceedings in Northern Ireland since 1993. We will take a calm, collaborative and practical approach to find the best outcomes for your individual circumstances.
The head of our family law department is an experienced practitioner who is a member of both the Northern Ireland Children Order Panel and the Northern Ireland Guardian ad Litem Panel, a select group of family law practitioners with the experience required to deal with the most complex of public law cases.
Our Specialist Care Proceedings Solicitors
Our Specialist Care Proceedings Solicitors
Karen Cox has extensive experience dealing with all aspects of Family Law within Northern Ireland.
She excels in helping clients navigate the challenges faced during divorce proceedings.
Karen is often commended for her ability to explain complex Family Law legal documents in easy-to-understand terms.
Contact Karen for a free initial consultation, to determine the best approach for your Family Law case.
Amy Carson is one of Reid Black’s latest solicitors working within the Matrimonial and Family Law department.
She specialises in Divorce, Child Law and Domestic Violence in Northern Ireland.
Amy has won multiple awards during her studies at Queen’s University and brings her attention to detail to each and every case at Reid Black.
Contact Amy today for a free initial consultation to discuss your Family Law or Child Law case.
When social services visit your house they will be looking at the environment to make an initial assessment on the safety and wellbeing of children in the house. Please get in touch as soon as you become aware that social services plan to visit your house so that we can provide the support you need.
We would strongly encourage you to attend the pre-proceedings meeting. The meeting is an opportunity to put in place a plan that will mitigate social services’ concerns. If you don’t attend the pre-proceedings meeting your case is likely to go straight to court.
Anyone who is a party to proceedings — usually a child’s parents and anyone else with parental responsibility — can attend court hearings. Grandparents and others with an important role in a child’s life can apply to become a party in proceedings.
All legal costs relating to care proceedings are typically covered by Legal Aid. This is true no matter how much you earn. Please get in touch to get the legal help you need without worrying how much it will cost.
Let’s find the best outcome for your family
We’re here to support you through this daunting and difficult period. If social services are getting involved with your family or starting care proceedings in Northern Ireland, talk to one of our family law solicitors for free initial legal advice.
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