If Children’s Services want to take your children away from you immediately and you don’t agree, there will be a court case to decide where the children can live while court proceedings are going on. Often the local authority may try to have the contested removal hearing on the same day as the initial hearing, arguing that otherwise there would be delay. It is vital for you or your lawyer to argue that this would be unfair, and to ask that the case be adjourned to a date when a proper amount of time can be allocated, a Guardian’s views be made available and you can have time to choose a lawyer (especially if up to this point you’ve gone ahead with a lawyer recommended by Children’s Services).
It is really important for you to press for the child/ren to stay with you while assessments are being done. The law says that your children should only be separated from you if there is evidence that this is necessary for their immediate safety. Present any evidence you have that there is no immediate danger to your child and that separation would cause irreparable harm and trauma to your child.
Lawyers are not always ready to fight on this and do not always raise that separation itself will cause harm to your child. They are often reluctant to insist that Children’s Services produce evidence of what harm has been caused to the children or might be caused if they stay with you during court proceedings. You have to be ready to insist that this is what you want them to fight for and that they are supposed to take your instructions, not just tell you that the judge won’t like it! It may be true that the judge won’t like it, but if you want to win you must make your position clear from the very beginning of the case. You are much more likely to be able to pass whatever assessments are being done if you are able to maintain a good and close relationship with your children during the court proceedings.
If despite your efforts the court doesn’t agree that the children should stay with you, try to put forward a family member (e.g. grandparents, sister, auntie) who agrees to look after the children during this period. It is usually much more damaging to the children to go into foster care than to stay with your extended family, and more difficult to get them back. Start thinking about which family members or friends may be prepared to look after your children long-term if they are not allowed to stay with you. This may be the only way to avoid the children going into long term foster care or being adopted by strangers. Once you have put people forward, they will have to have a “viability” assessment done by Children’s Services – this can take 11 weeks. Anyone can have someone present during the viability assessment and they are allowed to record it. The person must be given a copy of their viability assessment and if it is negative, they can appeal either to the team which carried it out, or via the judge through your lawyer. If the assessment is positive, this may be a good time to apply to be made “party to proceedings” which means that the person/s can be directly involved in the court proceedings .
If the children are not allowed to stay with you, ask for as much contact as you can (e.g. several times a week). Request weekend contact and special holidays such as birthdays and religious days. Social workers will argue that they cannot facilitate contact on weekends and holidays such as Christmas day and birthdays. You are entitled to this contact, it just comes at a cost to them, something they may not be happy about. It’s really important to keep up your relationship with the children while you are being assessed – they are likely to be very upset at being separated from you and need to know you haven’t abandoned them. If there is more than one child, tell your lawyer to press for them to be kept together whether they go to family or into foster care. If there are problems with the contact centre where you are to see them, ask for a better venue but do not stop contact whatever happens. If they try to reduce your contact saying it’s because of “lack of resources” do not accept this and insist on a full and precise explanation.
The court could decide to issue an Interim Supervision Order (rather than a care order) – this means that the children stay with you or a family member and Children Services will monitor you.