Cases with an international element
Where the parent or child originate from outside the UK, social workers must:
- assess the extent to which family members living abroad should be involved
The duty to assess wider family remains, including as potential carers for the child, wherever they live
- work on the basis that common values are shared across international family justice systems, with no presumption that the English system is more competent.
Social workers assess wider family members residing abroad in a variety of ways, and consideration needs to be given as to how the need for travel will affect the timeliness of care proceedings.
Where one or both parents live abroad, the court will expect all parties to cooperate in locating that person and complying with orders.
- The Hague Conventions and (in the purely European context) the regulation known as Brussels II Revised (BIIR) set out the values shared across international family justice
- A series of case law involving parents who live abroad, children from other countries
- The services of an accredited independent interpreter are essential when families do not speak English
- People with a basic grasp of the English language may still need interpreters when the matters under discussion are intimate, highly emotional or technical (such as during court proceedings)
- Children, extended family members and members of the parents’ own community should not be asked to interpret.
Advice on finding accredited public services interpreters is available at the National Service of Public Services Interpreters
Parents with learning disabilities and severe mental health problems
- A small number of parents lack the capacity to instruct a solicitor and understand the court process
- Obtaining the right support and/or assessment at an early stage may help parent(s) to resolve concerns, but if a care application is made, it will be an expectation of the court during the pre-proceedings stage that if there are concerns about a parent’s understanding, then a specialist assessment will have been sought
- Parents with learning difficulties may not be able to agree to voluntary accommodation (section 20 of the Children Act 1989), in which case the child should not be accommodated without obtaining a court order
- Some parents have learning difficulties that may affect their ability to care for their child. They may need professionals to understand how to communicate with them clearly or access to specialist support (eg from adult services or special parenting teams). Social workers may wish to make use of specialist tools such as the PAMS (Parent Assessment Manual) assessment. Parents with learning difficulties may also be offered a specialist advocate to support them with the court process.
Guidance issued by the Family Justice Council should be followed as soon as any question arises about the capacity of a person aged 16 or over.
Concurrent Public Law and criminal proceedings
This can be a common cause of delay, but children should not have to await the outcome of criminal proceedings.
- Relevant case law can be found in : A Local Authority v DG & Others  EWHC 63 (Fam)
- In October 2013 a Protocol and Good Practice Model was issued by the President of the Family Division, the Senior Presiding Judge and the Director of Public Prosecutions. It came into force on 1 January 2014. It provides comprehensive guidance on the procedures to be followed when there are linked care proceedings and criminal proceedings.