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Directions hearing at court for sgo

(12 Posts)
Mrpip Tue 03-Dec-13 20:58:17

I've just been notified following my application to the court for a sgo that we have to attend court next week. Our LA has already completed their report. When submitting my application 10 days ago I wrote to the judge notifying them the relevant reports by our LA were done.
My question is... It's being called a directions appointment. Does that mean it could all be resolved on the day or is this a preliminary type meeting/hearing whereby a further court date is required??

NanaNina Tue 03-Dec-13 21:37:10

A Directions Hearing is so that the it can be demonstrated that the LA are adhering (or not) to the court timetable as this is very important. It is also a time for the social workers/Guardian to make the Judge aware of any new developments that have arisen that could change the court timetable.

The child's future is not decided until the Final Hearing.

Mrpip Tue 03-Dec-13 22:06:00

Thankyou nananina for your swift reply. So nothing will be decided on that date? My social workers have not made that clear.
We are paying for the legal cost ( LA are making a small contribution) but I want to be prepared for any additional costs if future court dates are expected. I was considering not having any legal representation but now we've been given a date I'm feeling anxious about going it alone.

The whole process to date has left me feeling let down and dissatisfied with children's services ( not the individual sw attached to us but the decisions made by those invisible people whom I never see)
I'm worried that without legal representation I could find myself out of my depth.
In your experience do you think it's sensible to have a solicitor at a directions hearing?

NanaNina Tue 03-Dec-13 22:47:58

No it's not at all necessary for a solicitor to be present at a Directions Hearing and I'm wondering why they want you to be present. As I said this hearing is for the social workers and the guardian and usually there are numerous Directions Hearings before a final hearing.

I am assuming that the LA assessment has given you a positive recommendation for the SGO. Have they completed your Assessment of Need as Judges will not hear SGO applications unless this has been carried out. Is this a straightforward case which the LA are supporting/ If so I'm not sure why you needed a solicitor at all. I know it is your application but if the report is giving a positive recommendation then you won't be expected to say anything in court.

Why don't you ask your social worker to explain about Directions Hearings and ask when the final hearing is due, as they should know this, especially if the court timetable is being adhered to.

If there are issues you don't want to include on an open forum feel free to PM me.

Mrpip Wed 04-Dec-13 07:48:43

Thankyou. I will speak to my sw today.
Incidentally my sw wasn't aware of any court dates until I received the court letter for the directions appointment. They had been contacted by cafcass but nothing more. I am being asked to attend by the court and have to bring my proof of notice with me. Birth parents have also been contacted and asked to attend.
In answer to your question , yes LA fully support my application. Birth mum also supports sgo. Birth dad I'm less sure about. I've had the child since birth ( now nearly 2yrs) under section 20. Birth mum is my sister.

NanaNina Wed 04-Dec-13 12:26:11

It all sounds very straight forward to me so can't see why you needed a solicitor, but I have noticed on these threads that LAs are sometimes paying for applicants to get a solicitor. I have been retired since 2009 but I don't think anything has changed significantly in the Regs for SGOs. It might be that the Judge is going to make the Order as you have been asked to attend. Don't worry though it is very unlikely you will be asked anything, but if you are don't worry about that either - Judges in these cases are very nice (!) the only people to get hauled over the coals is the social workers if their documentation isn't complete.

hackneyLass Sat 07-Dec-13 18:36:50

Hi MrPip
I've only just seen your post. I am going through a very long SGO process. I went to a directions hearing 3 months ago: I wasn't summoned but went because I wanted to hear for myself what was going on rather than filtered through other people.

I made sure I arrived early and introduced myself to all the solicitors, barristers, guardian, social workers etc. They were all very friendly (even the legal representatives of the birth parents opposing the order), keen to help as I was not represented, putting me at my ease, explaining to me what was likely to happen etc. Probably the most positive part of the whole sorry experience of an SGO.

NanaNina our LA very reluctantly paid for us to have one hour then later another hour of legal advice, not representation. (Initially they offered us £60 in total for legal advice! But we said we could not find a solicitor who would see us for that amount. They agree to pay more but still less than our solicitors charge per hour).

I am very glad we have legal advice as the LA has tried to give us as little as possible in support of any kind (and have said that they propose to stop paying Special Guardian Allowance to anyone in the future). Finally after lots of wrangling we are meeting the LA & our solicitor next week immediately before the final hearing to thrash out the support plan. This would never have happened without the solicitor - the LA had already told the court that we had agreed the Support Plan (at a directions hearing I didn't go to) which was untrue. We only found this out through the solicitor. And presumably why they were so reluctant for us to have one.

NanaNina Sat 07-Dec-13 19:19:22

This is shocking - well beyond shocking Hackneylass it angers me so much to see the profession I loved going to the dogs. I know social worker are overworked and the whole service is under resourced but telling lies is truly shocking.

I strongly advise you not to wait until just before the final hearing to "thrash out the support plan" as this will not allow a suitable time. The thing is in courts you can wait for hours or you can sometimes get called in as soon as you arrive and if this happens or you are called when only half way through the support plan, you will have to go in (judges can't be kept waiting) This is far too important to be rushed. The social worker has an absolute duty to carry out this assessment and it shouldn't need a solicitor to be present, but I can understand why you want one after the way you have been treated.

Re finance. This is one of the most important issues. I don't know what your circumstances are but the SGO Regs state that "LAs have a duty to provide financial support for a period of 2 years for a child who is made the subject of an SGO and who was previously in the care of the LA." I have heard that applicants for these Orders are getting assurances from the LA that they will pay throughout the child's lifetime. If this is what you need, it is absolutely essential that this is written into the "Support plan" and is included in the court documents.

Have the LA actually completed a "support plan" or have they just told the court it has been done and you are in agreement. I honestly don't think they dare do this. I assessed many applicants for SGOs as an independent social worker and I often had to nag the LAs to complete the "assessment of need" and certainly at that time the late 2000s judges would not hear an application unless the Assessment of Need had been completed and filed in the court with the SGO Assessment.

Once the SGO is made you really are on your own and this is why it is imperative that you get the funding issue (and any other need that is important) written into the court documents. I suggest you get hold of your sw and ask for this Assessment of Need to be completed at a time when you are not awaiting to be called for the final hearing. Do you have a date for this hearing?

hackneyLass Sun 08-Dec-13 17:10:55

What I meant to say to MrPip is that in my experience having no legal representation at a directions hearing was fine (especially considering the expense). I found the solicitors, barristers and Guardian all very friendly and keen to make sure I understood what was going on. A very positive experience.

I would recommend building a good relationship with the Guardian. We, like lots of other people, found the Guardian very helpful at telling us what was going on, both in the hearings and behind the scenes.

I would also recommend having a good solicitor experienced in SGOs. The LA told us we didn't need a lawyer as they represented our interests which unfortunately is just not the case (nor should be the case: the LA and prospective SGs have different roles). We saw our solicitor for an hour's advice right at the start of the process than brought her back in when it was clear the SP was going awry. She has done two very good things. Firstly she’s been very helpful in getting us to think what the current and future needs of the children would be – so what should go in the support plan – not an area we are experienced in.

Secondly she was able to get a better response from the LA about the SP details then we were able to do on our own. She made the same points as we had been making – in her letters to the LA and now to the judge – but she got actual action (1) the LA have agreed to meet just before the final hearing, not ideal but better than nothing; (2) she found out errors had been made in assessing the SG allowance and the settling-in grant which we wouldn't have found out on our own; (3) the LA have already changed their minds on some things e.g. no longer stopping all allowances when the youngest child starts school (as if all the children’s needs will magically disappear on that date!). I am optimistic we can all agree a SP which will meet the needs of these children, but equally I am sure that without a lawyer we would have got a poorer outcome.

NanaNina we've already been positively assessed but the SP we got in writng differed in the details from what we had discussed with SWs during the assessment: in psychological & educational support, contact, settling-in grant, moving costs & allowance. Possibly because the SW changed part way through, possibly because of budget cuts.

Having an experienced solicitor is particularly important in these times of funding cuts. I think our SWs have been sincere but decisions taken further up the management chain appear to been to keep expenditure to a minimum (verbally, repeatedly: “the cuts”, “Mr Cameron” etc). But the awarding of the SGO and the SP that goes with it will affect all our lives for the next couple of decades so it is important to get right. Also, as for many other children in this situation, the alternative to the SGO is long term fostering which is much more expensive to the LA (not a dig at foster carers who I utterly respect). LAs are pulled between 2 imperatives: welfare of children and cut those budgets. i am sure some decisions come down more on one side than another. Having a (expereinced) lawyer helps influence which way the decision goes.

But having a lawyer is very expensive. We have asked her to write letters for us (which got a much better response than ones we wrote on our own) but not to come to any of the hearings as we just can’t afford it. The LA is making a small contribution to her costs. As for the rest of her bill – we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

hackneyLass Sun 08-Dec-13 18:26:39

And MrPip - hope it goes well at your hearing next week & that nothing unexpected happens...

Mrpip Sun 08-Dec-13 21:47:42

Hi hackneylass, Thankyou for replying. It's good to hear from others in a similar situation. It really is a minefield isn't it? I've had similar issues regarding legal costs. Initially we were told all legal costs/applications would be delt with by our LA and then 14 months down the line I was told that I was responsible for all legal costs and that the SGO application had to be made by myself. I instructed a solicitor at this point as I was rapidly losing confidence. My solicitor felt it was unfair of the LA to expect me to make an independant application where I was expected to cite the reasons why my sister was not fit to parent her child when the decision was the LA's. Our LA are now paying for the cost of application though I still had to make the application myself. They have also agreed to 4 hours of legal cost. Incidentally I've paid for all of this and still haven't been refunded.
I am seeing my sw tomorrow and hopefully speaking to my solicitor too. Our financial assessment is nearly finished. I doubt we will get any financial assistance as my husband earns a fair wage but he also works for himself so there's always the worry that his income could change especially in the current climate. We are currently converting our loft to make room for our little one as she's still in with us but it seams none of this is taken into consideration. In truth I'm much more concerned about securing her with us than the financial side of things but I do get very frustrated with being told one thing and spending nearly 2yrs now jumping through hoops to be told another thing entirely.
I hope things are moving in the right direction for you and you are able to secure the children in a way that enables you to do the right thing by them. That's all we hope for after all. I've been told by my sw from the adoption & permanency team I'm too child led and need to push for more within the sp??? Honestly I'm not a social worker why don't they just tell me what in their experience will benefit me the most?

Mrpip Sun 08-Dec-13 22:02:49

Just to clarify our dd (dn) is under a section 20 looked after child and my sister (birth mum) has full parental responsibility.
LA were going for a care order when my sister was pregnant. I pushed for a liability assessment on us and went through the fostering assessment. I was very keen my niece did not go "into care'" and my sister supported this. Because of this there is a lot of talk of " private arrangement" banded around which frustrates me no end as that is not quite the case. Considering my dn was on a child protection plan for 6 months and we have been heavily monitored for nearly 2yrs it's hardly a private arrangement between sisters but ofcourse as the LA does not hold PR it has ment they can avoid certain responsibilities. Saying that I'm still happy I was able to secure my dn in the way we have.

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