Caregivers must have access to free legal advice without means testing to ensure that they know their rights and can secure a child’s future, avoiding them being taken into the care system. in charge, the Law Society of England and Wales said today in response to a parliamentary report.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) report on family care released today examines how the lack of legal help and advice is undermining family care.
Family caregivers are grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, or family friends who step in to care for a child when they cannot be raised by their parents. They ensure that a child remains within the family and friendly unit rather than being taken into care.
A 2020 parliamentary report found that carers struggled to access free and independent legal advice and representation, leaving the less wealthy to fend for themselves in complex legal proceedings.*
“The legal processes surrounding family care are complex. Legal advice and representation is essential to help caregivers intervene and keep children out of care,” said Law Society President I. Stephanie Boyce.
“Family guardians ensure that the right support program is in place to meet the needs of the children and ensure that they thrive.
“We welcome the publication of this report, which highlights the continuing effects of the cuts to legal aid introduced by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Prosecution of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO) , which means family caregivers face greater barriers to obtaining legal help for family issues.
“Caregivers now have to bear the financial burden of obtaining legal advice to care for a child or simply receive no legal advice about their rights and options for their child kin.”
According to today’s report, only 16% of respondents received full or partial payment for legal advice through legal aid and 25% paid for some or all of the costs themselves.
56% had received full or partial payment from their local authority, but local authority funding varies across the country and is often limited to initial advice.
72% of respondents said becoming a family carer had caused them financial hardship, with 37% personally contributing to the costs of legal representation, advice and court costs – ranging from £1,000 to over £10,000.
I. Stephanie Boyce said, “Added to this is the stressful and emotional burden placed on the caregiver by the parent as they attempt to navigate a complex and often confusing system for a child who is undoubtedly seeking stability in his or her life.
“We are disappointed that the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has not done anything meaningful to address this issue since committing to do so in 2019.
“Children in care will often have experienced trauma and tragedy. Research shows that children living with family caregivers have a greater sense of stability than those in the care system.
“It would make moral and financial sense for non-means-tested legal aid to be made available in these cases. This would go a long way in protecting children and keeping them out of the care system.**
“Caregivers must have early access to legal aid to ensure that everyone involved receives advice and representation, so that the child is protected and their best interests are at the heart of the process.”
Notes to Editors
Read the Bar LASPO 4 years later report
Read the Law Society’s report on paying legal aid for criminals [and civil] legal aid
** The means test assesses a person’s financial eligibility to be eligible for civil legal aid. The lack of a means test means that a person’s finances are not scrutinized and they will have legal representation.
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