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Family Law, Divorce, Separation

Care Proceedings

Care proceedings are initiated by Local Authorities (or the NSPCC) who believe that a child (defined under legislation as anyone under the age of 18) is at risk of harm if there is not court intervention.

The court has a range of powers available but in these applications the most likely orders which will be made are a care order or a supervision order.

  • Care Orders and Supervision Orders

      A care order places a child into the care of the Local Authority.  While a case is ongoing, if the court deems the child to be at risk of significant harm, the court may make an interim care order pending the final hearing where a final care order may be made.

      A supervision order keeps primary care with the parent or carer but assigns a designated Local Authority worker or probation officer to supervise the care being given to the child and the child’s welfare. The designated officer has a duty to befriend, advise and assist the child.

      When the court decides whether to make a care order or a supervision order, the protection of the child is the decisive factor. The court will seek to make the most proportionate order balancing the risk of harm to the child in their current care and the harm which will be caused if the child is removed from their parents under a care order.

      A final care or supervision order lasts until the child is 18, or until further order of the court.

  • Threshold Criteria

      To make a care or supervision order, the court needs to be satisfied that the ‘threshold criteria’ is satisfied, namely that:

      1. a child is suffering, or at risk of suffering, significant harm; and
      2. This harm is attributable to;
      • the care given to the child not being of the level it is reasonable to expect; or
      • the child being beyond parental control.

      The court interpret the above criteria strictly and the law places a presumption on the court that it will not intervene and make an order unless it can be shown that there is a positive need and benefit to the child in doing so.

      There is also a general principle that any delay in conducting the proceedings will be likely to prejudice the welfare of the child. The court will seek to conclude proceedings within 26 weeks of the date the case was issued.

  • Key Factors for the Court to Consider

      Under the Children Act 1989, for all cases concerning children (including care proceedings) the paramount consideration for the court is the welfare of the children. However the courts will take into account various other factors, including (but not limited to):-

      • The ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned (considered in light of his age and understanding);
      • The child’s physical, emotional and educational needs;
      • Any harm that the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering; and
      • The capability of each of the child’s parents (and any other person the court considers relevant) to meet the child’s needs;
  • Social Services and Cafcass

      In care proceedings the court will order for reports to be completed by the Local Authority and Cafcass (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service). Cafcass are a non-governmental body who will interview the parents and the children to advise the court on any safeguarding measures and recommendations to protect the safety and welfare of any children.

      In public children proceedings the Local Authority will draft a care plan or a supervision plan which the court will scrutinise prior to making any orders.