Children Act Childcare proceedings are commenced by the Local Authority when they believe a child is at risk of significant harm as a result of the way that child is being parented. Notification of those proceedings is made to those parents or others who have Parental Responsibility for the child. This is usually anyone named on the birth certificate or anyone who has for example acquired Parental Responsibility by any other means.
It can be common however for a Mother to be caring for a child on her own, where no Father is named on the birth certificate and where the Father has not been involved in the child’s life. There may be concerns about criminality, or drug use or a history of domestic violence. There may also be doubt about the identity of the Father of the child.
In these circumstances Mothers can often be very worried about the Local Authority notifying the Father of the proceedings, with him potentially then having the opportunity to put himself forward to care for the child, despite not having previously been involved in their life. Or alternatively using the notification as an opportunity to bother the mother or the child.
Under the Children Act 1989 the Local Authority must give notice ‘to every person whom the applicant believes to be a parent without parental responsibility for the child’. The Father or potential Father is not automatically added into the proceedings. They are given notice of them, and it is then for them to choose whether to take part. If the child’s paternity is in question, the Court can direct at an early stage that a DNA test be undertaken.
If paternity is established for the Father, this again does not mean that they automatically have parental responsibility of the child. If the DNA test is positive and they choose to take part in the proceedings, they would have to make an application to the Court for Parental Responsibility to be Ordered.
In a leading case the Court decided there should be three important tests for Parental Responsibility (although this is not an exhaustive list):
- The degree of commitment the father has shown towards the child;
- The degree of attachment which exists between father and child and;
- The reasons of the father for applying for the Order (a genuine motive).
Unless the Father met these, and perhaps other tests, Parental Responsibly would remain solely with the Mother.
Therefore, whilst it might feel overwhelming that the Local Authority would contact someone who is not involved with the child, it does not necessarily mean that person would automatically play a role in the proceedings, or will able to care for the child. That is a decision that can only be made by the Court.