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27 August 2014
Question:- Are you a grandparent/aunt/uncle/family friend who wants to be considered as a carer for a child/children subject to Care Proceedings?
If the answer is yes, you need to contact the Social Worker and ask for an Assessment without delay. That will consist of an initial Viability Assessment to assess your suitability and if positive, will lead on to a more thorough, comprehensive assessment. But what if you are told that it is negative and you will not be considered further, what can you do?
The Courts view is that any prospective Kinship Carers must be given a copy of the Viability Assessment as soon as possible with a letter from the Local Authority advising them to seek independent legal advice on what options are available to them. Invariably, those options will be:-
The two major problems you have are COST of professional representation and TIME.
If you are challenging a Local Authority in care proceedings seeking an order that a child is placed in your care, public funding if available is subject to a merits and means test. if you do not qualify for public funding the costs can be high but fixed fees are available. It is important to act quickly as the court will be acting in a way which will set the timetable for decisions which best meets the interest of the child concerned.
Parents and persons with Parental responsibility are entitled to free representation in these difficult cases. It may be if your son or daughter are in this position that you can seek some initial advice on these matters. But it is important to remember that the solicitor will represent the interests of your son or daughter and it may not be appropriate or even possible to assist beyond a preliminary view. It is worth asking though and they will at least be able to bring your interest to the attention of the court. However, it is importnat that you take steps to have your case put independently of anyone else in the case.
Another option would be to ask to speak to the Children's Guardian about your situation. The social worker (or the parents in the case) will have the details of who to contact. Your grandchild will also have a solicitor representing his or her interests in the case and it is worth asking for assistance from him or her. Remember the Guardian and Solicitor are acting in the interests of the child or children subject to the proceedings but they can point you in the right direction!
Where there is no conflict (the parent(s) support your position), the parent's solicitor may agree to consider your options with you. It may be appropriate in some cases to be a witness for your relative and to put your case through the parent. These cases are rare but not unheard of and so it is worth asking.
The key is to act quickly and seek advice and guidance at an early stage. Court can be a daunting process and this is particularly so if you feel that you are unwelcome or not being heard. However, remember, the Judge's job is to make a decision that is in the best interests of the child. Interference with a person's Right to Family Life must be lawful, necessary and proportionate to the harm feared that a child will suffer without intervention. The Judge will be alive to this and want to hear from anyone in the family whop has a legitimate concern for the child. Don't sit back and think that the Judge will know everything - you know your family best and you need to be heard! Get help now!