18. If the local authority considers it may have to apply to court to remove a child from home on either a short-term or permanent basis, it is essential to explore alternative care options for the child other than remaining at home. Parents should be fully involved in that discussion and decision. Consideration should always be given to holding a family meeting or a family group conference which involves all potential alternative family carers being explored. Parents should be supported to engage with their wider family for this purpose, even if they intend to contest the local authority application. The local authority should resource any advocacy one or both parents and/or wider family members needs in order to participate. They should also carry out viability assessments of each alternative family carer identified.
19. Should the local authority’s concerns remain high, legal advice should be sought and care proceedings should be considered as one possible action when the child’s needs are being reviewed. At this stage, whenever it comes, sufficient assessment work should have been completed to inform this decision. Engagement with the family remains crucial, even if the programme of early help has not resulted in a better outcome for the child. At varying points, the local authority concern can be reflected in a written agreement drawn up with the parent/s, a child protection plan or, in cases where the local authority feels the threshold for a care application is met, through deciding – usually after a legal planning meeting - whether to step involvement up to formal pre-proceedings status by issuing a letter before proceedings, so that the parent/s can obtain their own legal advice.
Consideration of alternative care options
20. The social worker must evaluate all realistic options for the child’s future. The advantages and disadvantages of each option should be listed in section 7, with reasons for the preferred option being given.
21. The proposed care plan for the child should be the one most likely to achieve positive long-term outcomes for the child. The care plan set before the court must include how the child’s array of needs are going to be met in the future. The Court’s care plan should, in accordance with the Children and Families Act 2014, be clear about the ‘permanence provisions to the child setting out the long term plan for the upbringing of the child’ being concerned with the following – ‘a) the child to live with any parent of the child or with any member of, or any friend of, the child’s family - b) adoption – c) long term care not within a) or b)’. When adoption is the care plan, it must be because ‘nothing else will do’. To arrive at this conclusion, social workers must analyse the discounted options giving a brief summary of why other realistic options should be discounted in favour of adoption.
22. It is envisaged that at the IRH or final hearing, concurrent Care and Placement Orders could be made, should the court decide that is in the best interests of the child. Care and Placement Orders should only be considered separately and sequentially where there are good reasons for the applications to be separate and sequential. Such good reasons may include more complex cases, possibly with older children: sibling groups were children may have different needs, where it is clear that whilst a care order is needed, further assessment is necessary before arriving at the permanence plan most likely to achieve the child’s long-term welfare. The local authority must take all possible steps to achieve permanence for the child, including consideration of a fostering for adoption placement where appropriate.
23. Children should be as fully involved in their own cases as their needs dictate. Through their solicitor and their guardian from Cafcass, children must be kept informed of what is happening in their case and fully consulted, subject to their developmental age and understanding. In deciding with the child the appropriate level of involvement in their own case, the guardian, solicitor and the court must take the child’s best interests into account.
The welfare checklists in full
24. The full Children Act checklist, to be used in care and supervision proceedings is found at section 1(3) (a) – (g) and requires the court to have regard to the following matters:
(a) The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child/children concerned (considered in the light of his/her/their age and understanding);
(b) His/her/their physical, emotional and educational needs;
(c) The likely effect on him/her/them of any change in his/her/their circumstances;
(d) His/her/their age, sex, background and any characteristics of his/hers/theirs which the court considers relevant;
(e) Any harm which he/she/they has/have suffered or is/are at risk of suffering;
(f) How capable each of his/her/their parents, and any other person in relation to whom the court considers the question to be relevant, is of meeting his/her/their needs;
(g) The range of powers available to the court under this Act (Children Act 1989) in the proceedings in question.
25. The full Adoption and Children Act welfare checklist, to be used in care proceedings where the plan is for adoption and in placement proceedings, is found in section 1(4) (a) – (f) and requires the court and the adoption agency to have regard to the following matters (among others):
(a) the child’s ascertainable wishes and feelings regarding the decision (considered in the light of the child’s age and understanding),
(b) the child’s particular needs,
(c) the likely effect on the child (throughout his life) of having ceased to be a member of the original family and become an adopted person,
(d) the child’s age, sex, background and any of the child’s characteristics which the court or agency considers relevant,
(e) any harm (within the meaning of the Children Act 1989 (c. 41)) which the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering,
(f) the relationship which the child has with relatives, and with any other person in relation to whom the court or agency considers the relationship to be relevant, including
i) the likelihood of any such relationship continuing and the value of the child of its doing so,
The statement is available to download here.
ii) the ability and willingness of any of the child’s relatives, or of any such person, to provide the child with a secure environment in which the child can develop, and otherwise to meet the child’s needs,
iii) the wishes and feelings of any of the child’s relatives, or of any such person, regarding the child.