This is a short hearing to make plans for how and when the case is going to be decided. The court will make directions to get all the information it needs and to allow everyone involved to have their say by making a statement in writing or providing evidence. This might include saying that certain assessments of the parents or children should be carried out. Where there is more than one of these hearings they are called “further case management hearings”.
At every stage, it’s really important to stay on top of what your solicitor is doing and make sure that you tell them clearly what you want them to press for. It’s always best to put everything you want them to know or do in writing so that you can refer to it at a later date in case you disagree with something your lawyer has done (see 23). If you are representing yourself, ask the court to give directions about how you can be involved in the advocates meeting which usually takes place before each court hearing. You are entitled to take part in this but often you are not informed this is happening.
The court will make directions about what steps need to happen next and everything decided in court should be in the court order which you should get a copy of.
In order to start court proceedings, Children Services have to make an application for a Care or Supervision Order to the court, and they must hand in certain documents and send copies to everyone who is involved in the case. These documents should include a social worker’s statement giving the history of what they claim has happened up to now, and their reasons for going to court. There should also be what’s called a threshold statement which says on what basis they want to get a care order (i.e., what is the alleged harm caused to your child and what you have or haven’t done about it), and the plan they propose for your child. If any assessments have been done of you or other family members by this time they should also be given to the court and to you. You have the right to ask Children’s Services to disclose any other records they have on you (e.g. notes from meetings you have had with a social worker) – if they refuse to disclose these your lawyer should ask for them in court.
If Children’s Services want to remove the children immediately and you don’t agree, there will be a contested removal hearing (see below). If you agree, for example, that the children can stay with a relative, an Interim Care Order (ICO) will confirm this. Under an ICO, Children’s Services have shared parental responsibility with you and they decide to what extent you can use your parental responsibility (e.g. to make decisions about your child’s health care, go to school meetings, etc.). Insist on as much involvement as possible so you stay in your child’s life. You still hold parental responsibility and you are entitled to attend all medical and school appointments unless a judge has ordered otherwise
An ICO can also order that a named adult should stop living with you, if they think the person is a danger to the children. They cannot impose this on you, you have to agree for it to happen; if you don’t agree, the judge might decide to remove your children from you. Think carefully, especially as domestic violence is now the major reason children are removed from their mothers (see 17).