Public Law Children Matters
Any involvement with Social Services and your family can often be an emotive and distressful time. The Solicitors and support staff within our Family Department are trained to deal with matters of this nature in a sensitive and caring fashion.
What is a care order?
When a child is made the subject of a care order, the local authority has legal responsibility for the child. This is called parental responsibility. As parents you continue to have parental responsibility.
The Local Authority will decide where your child should live but this will normally be away from home.
When will a Local Authority seek a care order?
A local authority will seek a court order if your child is not receiving the sort of care it would be reasonable to expect from a parent, and this lack of care is causing the child significant harm. The court will decide whether or not a child is suffering harm in this way.
Where will a child in care live?
The local authority will consult with you about where your child should live, but the local authority will make the final decision. A child will generally live with foster carers who can be members of your extended family.
Fostering means that the Social Services Department arranges for a child to live with foster carers. It enables a child to be cared for in a family environment. A child can be placed with foster carers long term, for example, when you are permanently unable to look after your child, or short term, for example when you are temporarily unable to look after your child because of illness in the family, or your child is in care but it is planned that s/he will return to you, relatives or friends.
Foster carers can be:
- a married couple
- a same-sex couple, whether civil partners or cohabiting
- an unmarried heterosexual couple
- a single man
- a single woman.
Foster carers are usually a married couple, but single women can foster. It is much more difficult for a single man to be accepted as a foster carer. Foster carers are recruited and selected by the social services department. Relatives and friends of children looked after by the local authority can be approved as foster carers for the children.
How will the decision be made?
When deciding where your child should live the local authority will take into account a number of points including:
- your wishes as parents
- your child’s wishes
- the need to place your child near your home so that your child can keep in touch with friends and relatives, if this will be good for your child
- whether or not brothers and sisters should be kept together
How is a care order made?
The Local Authority applies to the court for a care order. However, before the Local Authority applies for a court order it will investigate the child’s circumstances.
The local authority may start these investigations for any of the following reasons:
- when directed to do so by the court
- when the child has persistently failed to comply with an education supervision order
- when it suspects that a child in its area is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm
- when a child is in police protection
- when a child assessment order has been made
- when an emergency protection order has been made. This is an order to protect the child from harm by removal from a place or the requirement to stay in a specific place.
The social services department’s primary duty is to work with you as parents and with your child to prevent the child being made the subject of a care order, or to return your child home as quickly as possible. When the local authority has investigated your child’s circumstances, it will work with your family to resolve the problems by providing support services to the child and you as a family in the community. It will also discuss with you and your child the possibility of accommodating the child for a limited period until the problems can be resolved.
If, having tried to resolve the problems in the ways outlined above, the local authority believes that the child is still at risk, it will apply to the court for a care order.
The application is made to the family proceedings court of the magistrates court. The court will appoint a person to look after the child’s interest during the court proceedings. This person is known as the children’s guardian.
If the case becomes complicated or is clearly complex at the outset then it can be transferred to the County Court where it will be dealt with by a Judge. In cases of extreme complexity the case can be further transferred to the High Court.
The court may want to see reports about you and your child. These reports will be prepared by a social worker and the children’s guardian or guardian.
Where appropriate reports from psychiatrics or psychiatrists will be ordered by the Court
If the court decides that the child is at risk it may make a care order or a supervision order. A supervision order requires a child to be supervised by a social worker for up to a year. It could also make a Child Arrangement Order instead of a care order which will say who the child should live with. This could be with just one parent or with both parents. If it’s with both parents, the order will say how much time the child should live with each one.
A child arrangement order says who the child should have contact with and what sort of contact this should be, for example, visiting, telephoning or writing letters. This order might include other conditions, and can be made to allow contact between the child and other relatives or friends.
Getting legal advice
Anyone involved in care proceedings should seek legal advice. You and your child can each apply for help with legal costs, and will be entitled to get it without meeting the usual conditions.
Appealing against or ending a care order
You or your child can appeal against a care order within 14 days of the order being made. You, your child or the local authority can apply to end the order or change it to a supervision order at any time.
What happens once a care order has been made?
In England and Wales, your child (with you where possible) and the Local Authority must agree a written plan to meet your child’s needs.
How long will the care order last?
The care order can last until a child is 18.
Contact with a child in care
The Local Authority must encourage contact between a child in care and parents, relatives and friends. It must also allow reasonable contact between the child and you as parents.
Arrangements for contact will normally be agreed between the Local Authority, you and your child. However, if it is not possible to reach an agreement, the court can make a court order detailing what contact your child should have with other people.
If the Local Authority wants to change the arrangements for contact, the social worker must discuss the proposed changes with all the people involved. The Local Authority cannot stop contact between you and your child without a court order unless it considers the situation is urgent, when it can stop contact for up to seven days.
Anyone can appeal against a decision of the court to refuse or to grant a contact order, including the child.
Reviewing the child’s circumstances
The local authority is required by law to review the circumstances of a child in its care within four weeks of the child first being looked after. The Local Authority must conduct a second review within three months of the first review, and it must conduct subsequent reviews every six months. The review will discuss the plan which has been drawn up for the child. The Local Authority will consider what progress has been made in implementing the plan, and whether there needs to be any changes made to it.