Increase in children being taken into parents care during Lockdown
- AuthorJessica Silvers
Unprecedented increase in children being taken into parents care during lockdown
“The UK legal system has seen an unprecedented rise in Care Proceedings, which has seen a rise in children being removed from their parents care,” says Jessica Silvers, a solicitor in the family team at Nottingham Family Law.
This surge has taken place since March 2020 and continues now that the restrictions are being lifted. I would describe the change in case load as going from 0 to 100 overnight. Despite the increase, we have been able to adapt to the change in demand and continue to offer our services to our clients.
What are Care Proceedings?
Care Proceedings are when a Local Authority takes parents to court as there are concerns about children’s safety remaining in their parents care.
Children can be removed if the court is satisfied, they are likely to suffer, or have been suffering significant harm. That harm is attributable to the care given, not being what it would be reasonable for a parent to give to them.
Why has there been an increase in children being removed?
Legal professionals are putting this rise down to, but not limited to the following examples:
- An increased number of people struggling with mental health issues during lockdown;
- An increase in drug and alcohol abuse
- An increase in domestic abuse between parents
- Less available resources to Social Care staff
- Limited availability in mother and baby placements and residential units for parents and their children
- Increased tensions between families brought on by spending so much time together during lockdown
How will I know if my children are at risk of being removed?
The Local Authority may already be involved in your case under Child in Need, Child Protection or the PLO process. If so, please contact us immediately to instruct a Solicitor.
In these meetings, if the local authority are concerned enough to consider removing your children, they will make this clear to you. A Solicitor will be able to help prevent this as far as possible and explain the process in an understandable way.
The Local Authority may also do Section 47 enquiries into your family which could result in an application being made for either an Emergency Protection Order or Interim Care Order which could result in the removal of your children.
Once the Local Authority make an application, it is likely the court will list the case for a hearing within two weeks. However, a common issue at court at present is a backlog in cases, meaning some hearings are not listed for a number of weeks.
How can I prevent the concerns of the Local Authority?
Most services that stopped when lockdown began have now adapted themselves to working remotely and offer either telephone or online services. If the Local Authority does raise concerns, you should where possible, access the relevant services online or by telephone.
If you are a victim of domestic abuse, you are not restricted from leaving the perpetrator because of any lockdown restrictions. You should contact Women’s Aid and seek refuge elsewhere or silently ring the police by dialing ‘999’ and then press ‘55’.
This will initiate an emergency response by the Police. You can take your children with you to most refuges even during lockdown.
Are court hearings still taking place despite the lockdown?
Yes. Although, most are taking place remotely by telephone and through systems such as Zoom and Skype.
Whilst at the beginning of lockdown some cases were not going ahead due to arguments relating to the fairness of trials, the removal of children still continued. This raises questions as to fairness and it is something never seen before.
Since then, the President of the Family Court has said that cases need to continue and the courts need to adapt to this “new way of working”. Therefore, all hearings are now taking place.
If there are issues with fairness, a new “hybrid” hearing can take place. A hybrid hearing means some people attend the court in person while everyone else attends remotely by video conference. Therefore, the court can still assess demeanor which clients have the right for a judge to see when they give evidence.
If my children are removed, will the lockdown restrictions let me see them?
Contact between children that have been removed and their parents have presented various issues. Until recently, parents were not being allowed any contact with their children.
However, Contact Centre’s are now reopening and the Local Authority are under a duty to promote contact wherever possible with parents. This has also been helpfully dealt with recently by a member of our firm at the Court of Appeal who said ordinary principles should apply for applications regarding contact with children in care, even though outcomes may be affected by the practicalities faced.
How much do Care Proceedings cost if I am a parent?
Nothing. You are the child’s parent and therefore, it is free to you.
How can we assist?
Our team of family law specialists can help you navigate the best way forward, to ensure you are still complying with your legal requirements, and that you fully understand the process and steps taken with care proceedings.
We have a number of lawyers in each of our offices who will be able to help you. You can contact them by visiting our Contact Us page. If you need urgent legal advice, we have an emergency number, 08000 320999, which is available both in and out of office hours.