Child Care Terminology
Official solicitor – An Officer of the Supreme Court who acts on behalf of children in certain cases. When representing a child, the Official Solicitor acts both as a solicitor as well as a guardian. The Official Solicitor cannot act in the family proceedings court.
Overriding objective – The factors the Family Court and all court users should work to, to enable cases to be dealt with justly.
Paramountcy principle – The principle that the welfare of the child is the paramount consideration in proceedings concerning children.
Parent – The mother or father of a child. Depending on the legislation under which an application is made, this can include a father without parental responsibility. In any application, always check with your legal adviser whether the definition includes fathers without parental responsibility.
Parental responsibility – Defined as “all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property. Parental responsibility can be exercised by persons who are not the child’s biological parents and can be shared among a number of persons. It can be acquired by agreement or court order, or registration of the natural father’s name on the birth certificate.
Parenting plan – A written or online agreement between parents recording how you will share the care of your child now and in the future. It is not a legally binding agreement.
Placement order – The court can make an order under section 21 Adoption and Children Act 2002 authorising a local authority to place a looked after child for adoption with any prospective adopters chosen by the local authority. Parental responsibility is shared between the local authority and the birth parents and the prospective adopters if the child is living with them.
PLO – The Public Law Outline – the Practice Direction on case management in public law proceedings. This sets out streamlined case management procedures for dealing with public law children’s cases. It requires all care, supervision and other Part 4 proceedings to be completed within a maximum of 26 weeks.
Pre-proceedings letter – The letter will also invite the parents and anyone else who has parental responsibility for the child to a meeting to look at the current concerns about the child’s welfare. At the meeting, the aim is to agree a revised plan for the child, which should be set out in writing and which will set out what needs to be done to avoid going to court. It should be very clear what is expected of everyone and the timescales for carrying out the plan. This plan needs to be reviewed within six weeks to see if things are getting better or if the court now needs to be involved.
Pre-proceedings – If the local authority believes that a child is at risk of significant harm they may decide that it’s necessary to take the child into care to help keep them safe.
Unless the level of risk requires the courts to get involved immediately, care proceedings will only start after extensive efforts to keep the child with their family. If these efforts have failed then the parents will be invited to a pre-proceedings meeting as a final attempt to avoid going to court.
A pre-proceedings meeting takes place between the local authority, the parents and the parents’ lawyer to discuss with the parents how they can change the way they look after their child and what support and help is needed from the local authority.
If both sides agree, they will write a formal agreement that both the parents and the local authority have to follow. If parents don’t agree to the changes, or don’t follow the agreement, the local authority will probably ask the court to take the child into care.
Reports – The social worker and Cafcass officer will each write a report for the court. These will outline what they think should happen to the child.
They will include whether they think the child should be taken into care or stay with the family.
Once all the information has been gathered, there will be a court hearing.
The respondent is the person who has to respond to an application being brought by the applicant. The respondent has to complete an acknowledgement of service when the applicant brings an application to the court.
Risk assessment – Carried out by Cafcass in family proceedings whenever the Officer is given cause to suspect that the child concerned in those proceedings is at risk of harm. A report is provided to the court in respect of that risk assessment.