Once all of the evidence is gathered together and social services have said what their final plans are for the children, the court will hold an Issues Resolution Hearing (IRH) to see if some or all of the issues can be agreed. It will decide whether your case needs a fact finding hearing, particularly if it is a medical case (eg you are being accused of harming your child) or involves domestic violence. Sometimes parents agree that a child should go and live with a relative for example and if everything is agreed the court can make final orders and finish the case at this point.
At the end of the IRH, the court will either order a fact finding hearing or make a list of things that need to happen next. This is called “directions”. This will include whether there needs to be another hearing about where the children are to live while court proceedings are going on, any reports that are needed from the social worker or other professionals, and whether an expert report (e.g. a psychological assessment) is needed.
At this point you are expected to put forward any family members who would be ready to have the children long-term if they are not allowed to stay with you. This can be difficult when you are still fighting to keep your children yourself, but if you don’t put family members forward so that they can be assessed at an early stage, it may be too late later on. So, it’s best to discuss with your family now and put them forward for assessment. If your relatives agree that you should keep the children, make sure they state this so it is clear that they are putting themselves forward only in case the court decides you should not keep the children.
If there are expert reports that you want to get (e.g. from a breastfeeding expert or a domestic violence expert or a medical consultant) you should ask the court to agree to these at this stage. They are often reluctant to, preferring to rely on the social worker and CAFCASS but you can make the case that they do not have the specialist qualifications to deal with this aspect of the case. You can do this by asking for a Part 25 application .
The date for the next hearing will be set at the IRH. The next hearing will either be a fact-finding hearing or a final hearing. If anyone involved is asking for the timetable of the case to be extended beyond 26 weeks (for example while a family member assessment is done), the Issues Resolutions Hearing will decide whether to allow this or not.