Parental Responsibility

Social Services have removed my children

Question:

I have been in the pre-proceedings procedure with social services. I have been involved with Social Services since 2010 due to allegations of domestic violence. Last year I had a very bad accident were I was in hospital for 7 weeks so my 3 children were put on a plan. Everything was going well I'm a recovering alcoholic 9 months and I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder in April last year. Since being diagnosed there have been no police call outs and things were going well. On 13 December 2013 my partner stayed at my house for the night. We both had a drink my partner had shandy and I had 2 cans of cider. we had an unannounced visit the next day at 10-15 am. On Monday the 16th December I had to go to the social services office who have told me I was in breach of the agreement because I had consumed alcohol. I had to sign a section 20 agreement and my children have been taken to live at their paternal grandparents. I have to have supervised visits until it goes to court . I would like some advice I desperately need my children home. I am a completely different person since I was diagnosed with Bipolar Personality Disorder and put on the correct medication. I also go to my local alcohol services and I'm abstinent. I had a lapse, not a relapse.

Answer:

The first things to say is this -
go and see a solicitor. I do not know what area you are from, but you need to find a solicitor who is experienced in dealing with ‘Public Law’ (i.e. Care Cases). These cases still receive Legal Aid and it is vital that you get a solicitor on board as soon as possible.

They will be able to do a number of things, including, arranging for you to have hair strand alcohol testing to show whether you have been drinking and to get reports from the organisation you have been getting help from.

‘Section 20’ means section 20 of the Children Act 1989. It means that you give your consent to the children being ‘looked after’ or provided with care by the local authority. They have clearly decided to place your children with their grandparents. Strictly speaking you can get them back at any time unless the Local Authority have an order from the court (such as an interim care order) as they are not allowed to keep them without your agreement. I am
not suggesting that you withdraw your consent without speaking to a solicitor first, however if the local authority are delaying in getting the matter before the Court sometimes solicitors with threaten to withdraw consent so as to force the local authority to issue their application and get the matter in front of the court. This is a ‘tactical’ decision that you must discuss with a lawyer as sometimes threatening to withdraw consent can be the wrong thing to do.

Sometimes it is a good idea not to withdraw consent as nowadays care proceedings are being completed within a short period of time (26 weeks) so it can be helpful to have a long period before it goes to court so that a parent can show, for example, that they have not been drinking. However you must discuss all these issues with a solicitor.

In the mean time, make sure you attend every and all contact (no excuses) with the children and make sure that the contact is really good for the children. Do not discuss any of the issues in your case in front of them or say things that might make them feel worse about being away from you at the moment. Keep all the appointments that any social worker makes with you and keep attending any supportive organisations you are engaging with. Above all do not let the currently awful situation lead you to drink alcohol. I suspect that whether a Court will allow your children to return to your care will depend on a number of things including whether you drink alcohol again and how well you co-operate with social services and other agencies.

Sorry to bang on about it, but above all, go and see a solicitor. Now.

Good luck.


Comments

Taking away Parental Responsibility

Question:

After my daughter’s father taking me to court to see our daughter he was awarded parenteral responsibility only with indirect contact via letter emails once a month. The final hearing was September. Our daughter hasn't had anything from her father. The only thing he has done is contact school to have a meeting regarding her education. He also told school that if its alright with them he would like to come and watch her in her plays. I do not think this would be a good idea as our daughter would be very distressed if she saw him. Now I’m considering going back to court and seeing if I could have the parental responsibility taken away. Where would I stand and would I have to pay for it myself?

Answer:

It is very difficult to get rid of or ‘revoke’ Parental Responsibility (PR) once it has been given.

A parental responsibility order can be revoked by the court on an application made by any person who has parental responsibility or, with leave of the court, by the child him or herself.

Although the test to be applied is the s 1 ‘welfare test’ getting such an order requires considerable justification. In
Re P (Terminating Parental Responsibility) [1995] 1 FLR 1048 the Court terminated a parental responsibility agreement in circumstances in which a father was convicted of causing serious injury to his 9-week-old daughter. The Court held that parental responsibility, once obtained, should not be terminated on less than solid grounds, with a presumption for continuance rather than termination.

In
Re DW [2013 EWHC 854 (Fam) the Court terminated PR when a father had been sexually abusing the child concerned.

This gives you an idea of the type of things that are required. It is very unlikely that what you describe would be sufficient.

As with all such cases nowadays, I’m afraid legal aid is no longer available, meaning at the very least you would have to pay the Court fees yourself (unless you qualify for an exemption) and if you wanted to be represented you would have to pay a solicitor or barrister to do that.

My advice would be to show the school the order that has been made and make it clear that the court did not consider it appropriate for him to be having direct (face to face) contact with his daughter and explain what your concerns are if she accidentally met him.

You
might have grounds for an injunction against him but I stress that is only a possibility. You would need to seek legal advice if the suggestion I make above does not help the situation.


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What is Parental Responsibility?

Jo from London asks:

My ex-boyfriend says he has Parental Responsibility for our son and that I can’t cut his hair without getting his permission? Can this possibly be right?

Answer:

No. I deal with who has and does not have Parental Responsibility on my page “Parental Responsibility” here. If his name is on the birth certificate and he your son was born after 1st December 2003 then he will have Parental Responsibility, but have a look at the page for more possibilities.

The best way to define what PR means is to give some examples. If you have PR you are entitled to be consulted about important life decisions concerning your child. For example:

  • Where a child goes to school
  • Significant medical procedures
  • A child's name
  • What religion a child follows or is taught
  • Whether a child can go abroad
  • Where a child lives

Note the word consulted. This is not the same as decide. If parents cannot agree on these issues it is sometimes necessary to get a Court to decide between the competing views.

However, it is also worth noting what PR does not entitle a parent to do. It does not entitle a parent to interfere in the day-to-day care arrangements for a child whilst they are in that parents' care. So for example someone with PR does not have to be consulted about:

  • What the child wears
  • What time the child goes to bed or eats a meal
  • What a child eats
  • Where that child goes on a day trip
  • What the child watches on TV

That is not to say that good parents who have separated do not find a way to talk about all these things, and so they should. It just means that PR is not a license to tell the other parent how to look after a child every minute of the day.

An important part of PR is the ability to give consent to medical treatment (although this does not often hamper minor treatment and any major treatments should always involve consultation with the other parent).

Also if you have PR you have a legal right to ask schools and doctors to give you information about your child (e.g. school reports and medical records).

The responsibility part of PR is often forgotten. For example, a Court will often tell parents that it is part of their PR to make sure that the child sees the other parent!

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