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Children Law relates to Public Law Children Act proceedings such as applications for care orders by local authority social services departments, private law Children Act proceedings such as applications about the place of residence of or contact with children, and adoption.

Long-term child protection measures have to be referred to the Court under what are termed Care Proceedings.

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Long-term child protection measures have to be referred to the Court under what are termed Care Proceedings.

A Social Services Department can ask the Court to make a Care Order (including a short term "Interim" Care Order) if the Court is satisfied that the child is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm and that the harm or its likelihood is as a result of the care the child is receiving (or if the child is beyond parental control). Interim Orders can last for a first period of up to eight weeks and thereafter the situation has to be reviewed at four weekly intervals by the Court.

It is vitally important that parents obtain legal advice to find out how best to present their case and to consider what expert assessments may be necessary to reach the truth of any given situation. If you are involved in any child protection case you should be aware that free legal aid is available for all parents involved in Court Proceedings and you may well be entitled to legal help for any preliminary work for example in attending a Child Protection Conference.

We are members of the Law Society Children Panel Advanced. In our role as legal advisors to you as parents, we will:

• Attend every important meeting with you.
• Represent you at any hearings.
• Guide you through what can be a traumatic process.

If at all possible the Court will want to work to reunite a child with his or her family provided any concerns can be addressed and the child can return in safety. If you are subject to an investigation by Social Services please do not delay obtaining legal advice.

Legal Aid

Special Guardianship Order

A Special Guardianship Order(SGO) is a new legal option intended to provide stability and long-term security for children where adoption is not suitable.

The SGO appoints one or more people to be a child's special guardian giving them parental responsibility and the ability to make day to day decisions on all aspects of caring for the child. Unlike Adoption, an SGO retains the link between the child and their family and a Court can vary or end an SGO if circumstances change considerably.

Benefits
A special guardianship will suit children who do not want to be legally separated from their birth family, but would gain from greater legal security and permanence. It will benefit children in long-term foster care or those who are cared for on a permanent basis by members of their wider family. An SGO is particularly appropriate where birth parents, or others with parental responsibility, cannot provide a permanent home but the child's links with the birth family need to be preserved. A special guardian can also appoint a guardian for the child in the event of their death. Before a special guardianship order is made the social services department has to prepare a detailed report for the court and if requested has to carry out an assessment of what financial and other support services the family will need to care for the child.

Restrictions
The special guardian cannot change the child's surname or remove the child from the country for longer than 3 months without the written consent of all those with parental responsibility or an order of the court although the question of what surname the child should have and what other contact the child should have to other family members will be considered by the court when the order is made.

Adoption

Adoption is a way of providing a new family for those who cannot be brought up by their own parents and the means of giving them an opportunity to start again.

Adoption makes a child legally the child of new parents and the child becomes a full member of the new family, usually taking the family's name. The birth parents no longer have any legal connection with the child, and normally the only contact that is preserved is in the form of a yearly written report on progress.

The legal process
Adoption is a legal process in which parental responsibility is transferred from whoever currently holds parental responsibility to the adopters. Once an adoption order has been granted it can't be reversed except in extremely rare circumstances. A court cannot make an adoption order until the child has lived with the adopters for at least 13 weeks. This period does not start until the child is six weeks old, so no order is ever made before a child is 19 weeks old. If it is likely that the birth parents will agree to an adoption order, the court appoints a Reporting Officer, who checks that the birth parents understand what adoption is about and witnesses their agreement to the adoption order being made.

If the birth parents do not agree to adoption the court will appoint a Children's Guardian to advise the court whether such an order would be in the child's best interests. Step-parents can apply to jointly adopt a child with one of the child's natural parents. Notice has to be given to the local social service department who will provide a detailed report for the court and a recommendation as to whether there are any issues that need to be addressed before an adoption order is made or which might make adoption an unsuitable option. The application form is complex and needs to be completed carefully and fully.

Restrictions on who can be adopted
To be eligible for adoption the child must be under the age of 18 years. A child who is married or has been married cannot be adopted.

Step-Parents, Unmarried Couples and Same Sex Couples
Thanks to the amendments to the adoption law, which came into force at the beginning of 2006, step-parents, unmarried couples and same-sex couples, can now apply to adopt a child within their household. This represents the most important overhaul of adoption law in more than 25 years, and is a move in the right direction.

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BG Lawyers LLP can advise in respect to Legal Aid, please call us now and speak in confidence with one of our advisors.