Local authority - child care legal services

We have the largest child care team in the North West with an unrivalled number of staff appointed to the Children Panel Stephensons represents Guardians in childcare proceedings and has done so for many years.

We also represent many individual parents and grandparents in childcare proceedings. Overall we deal with approximately 1,000 cases involving children annually. We are ranked in tier one by Chambers Guide to the Legal Profession for the provision of child care legal services.

Our experience

We have been instructed on numerous occasions to represent foster carers who have joined as parties or are applying to be parties to existing care proceedings. We have advised fostering and adoption agencies on issues arising for their foster carers and or prospective adopters.

We have expertise in the field of child abduction. We have experience in acting for all parties in adoption cases including interventions by grandparents and other relatives.

We have been involved in training for our local authority contacts, providing training sessions in-house on specialist child care issues.

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Case study

Stephensons acted on behalf of and in an advisory capacity for a local authority which was handling a highly sensitive and complex case of child sexual assault allegations.

The father (F) of child (C) had allegations made against him by his step daughter (S) - aged 15 years - that he had sexually assaulted her in the family home.

Further to this, F’s sisters - now adults - came forward and made allegations that F had sexually assaulted them when they were children. These historical allegations took place over 15 years previously.

Stephensons liaised with the Metropolitan Police as well as regional police forces regarding application for third party disclosure and public interest immunity issues. The case was extremely complicated and a request for disclosure had to be obtained from the NSPCC. Disclosure applications were made against several organisations in order to prevent delay.

Stephensons received high praise from the court for the swift approach in dealing with these matters and ensuring that the court had all the evidence it needed to make informed decisions.

A fact finding hearing took place following a welfare hearing where findings were made against F which assisted the police in their investigation against him. The children remained with their mother, who following robust social work, was found capable of protecting the children.

Case study

Stephensons acted on behalf of and in an advisory capacity for a local authority in a highly complex child care case.

Child A, one of twins had been in foster care for approximately 12 months. The mother (M) maintained care of five other children, including A’s twin.

The local authority (LA) believed that M had rejected A and having already failed in pursuing a rehabilitation plan, the LA sought to make A’s separation from his twin permanent by way of a placement order.

As M was pregnant at the time, Stephensons advised the social work team to wait until the birth and issue proceedings in relation to all the children, as A’s case could not be seen in isolation.

However, despite this proceedings were issued by the LA.

The mother contested the proceedings and sought A to be returned to her care.

Later, on recommendation by Stephensons, following the birth of M’s seventh child, the proceedings were consolidated to include all children with a view to securing a care order with a home placement agreement.

The LA was concerned that M would reject her new born baby in the same way she rejected A. There were also concerns that the new born would unsettle already fragile family dynamics.

As such, the LA issued proceedings in respect of the new born.

Throughout, the LA was under pressure to rehabilitate A with his mother. The central aspect of this rehabilitation plan was a commitment to contact from the mother. However, M did not demonstrate sufficient commitment to contact and, instead, further difficulties were identified, including poor emotional wellbeing owing to a previous serious sexual assault and a history of self-harming.

A psychological assessment recommended therapy which was welcomed by the LA. After progress was made, A was rehabilitated back into the home.

However, following rehabilitation the social worked visited A. He exhibited disturbing behaviour and the other children in the family were physically and verbally abusive towards A and his twin. As such the LA planned to remove A from the family home for long term foster care, which was approved by the court.

The care required a high level of support and advice at all times. Donna Roberts and the Stephensons care team were highly commended by the local authority’s social work team for their expert advice, particularly in a complex and sensitive child care case.

 

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Stephensons Solicitors LLP’s broad practice also benefits from the firm’s large childcare team. Donna Roberts handles child protection matters for local authorities and Philip Richardson frequently advises local authorities on employment issues.
Legal 500, 2016

Case study

Stephensons acted on behalf of and in an advisory capacity for a local authority which was handling a highly sensitive and complex case of child sexual assault allegations.

The father (F) of child (C) had allegations made against him by his step daughter (S) - aged 15 years - that he had sexually assaulted her in the family home.

Further to this, F’s sisters - now adults - came forward and made allegations that F had sexually assaulted them when they were children. These historical allegations took place over 15 years previously.

Stephensons liaised with the Metropolitan Police as well as regional police forces regarding application for third party disclosure and public interest immunity issues. The case was extremely complicated and a request for disclosure had to be obtained from the NSPCC. Disclosure applications were made against several organisations in order to prevent delay.

Stephensons received high praise from the court for the swift approach in dealing with these matters and ensuring that the court had all the evidence it needed to make informed decisions.

A fact finding hearing took place following a welfare hearing where findings were made against F which assisted the police in their investigation against him. The children remained with their mother, who following robust social work, was found capable of protecting the children.

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Care order - case study

Child A was subject to an interim care order and placed with extended family following concerns about highly suspicious non-accidental injuries.

These injuries were discovered after the child was admitted to hospital by ambulance, where the father’s account (F) suggested A had been ‘breathless, unresponsive and he had administered CPR’. The suggestion appeared to be that rib fractures, discovered by x-ray were caused by the administering of CPR.

However, on closer inspection the injuries were found to be from 3-5 weeks prior to the hospital admission and the father’s account had not been witnessed by anyone else. Concerns were raised that F may have attempted to smother A intentionally.

Throughout the proceedings, Stephensons liaised with a consultant paediatrician – who reported on the fractures – and a further consultant paediatric report with a specialist expertise in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome was obtained.

The case was incredibly complex, owing to the fact that a number of people had come into contact with A during the window of injury, indicating a number of potential perpetrators – two of which were across legal jurisdictions. At the final hearing, all parties – six in total - were represented by QC’s and junior counsel.

During a composite finding of fact hearing, evidence from F and the mother (M) showed glaring inconsistencies. However, the evidence did not allow the judge to illustrate that one or the other – or both – were responsible for the injuries.

Despite this, other factors emerged that showed that neither parent had the ‘capacity to cope’ with A’s care and that the best outcome for the child was a special guardianship order with the maternal grandparents.

Stephensons was highly commended by the local authority for their work during the case, with particular credit for the volume of information accumulated, the level of legal advice and close contact with the social work team.

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As an award-winning top 150 law firm, with over 450 staff based in offices across the country, you're never far from the advice you need.

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As an award-winning top 150 law firm, with over 450 staff based in offices across the country, you're never far from the advice you need.