Care and supervision proceedings
Where a local authority is concerned that a child is experiencing or is at risk of serious harm it may apply to the court for a care order for a supervision order. Within these proceedings, the Court will decide what support the family need, where a child should live both in the short term and long term and the type of order that should be made.
Sometimes the local authority will ask you to agree to your child being looked after as an alternative to court proceedings. This is often known as section 20 accommodation.
Beck Fitzgerald specialise in representing parents, children and wider family members in care and supervision proceedings.
Where the Local Authority has serious concerns about a child in a parent’s care, they may apply to the court for an order.
Emergency Protection Order (EPO)
If there are any concerns about the welfare of a child, the Local Authority have duty to carry out a protection investigation. If the Local Authority consider the child to be in immediate danger, they can ask the court to make an Emergency Protection Order. This order allows the Local Authority to remove a child to a safer location.
An emergency protection order is a short measure and can last for up to 8 days. Whilst these orders can be extended, the Local Authority will likely make an application for a care order for the interim accommodation of a child.
Secure accommodation order
In very limited circumstances and in order to protect a child within their area a Local Authority may apply to place a young person in secure accommodation. Secure accommodation is defined as “accommodation provided for the purpose of restricting liberty” and usually comprises of locked accommodation. It is only in the most serious cases and where the welfare of the child requires it that the Local Authority is likely to make such an application.
A Local Authority may only apply for a secure accommodation order for a child who is being looked after by the Local Authority. This may be where a child is subject to a care order or where parents have given consent to the child being looked after by the Local Authority.
The Local Authority cannot make an application for a secure accommodation order for a child under the age of 13 without first getting the approval of the Secretary of State. Also, the Local Authority cannot make an application for a secure accommodation order for a child who has reached the age of 16, although an order may be made before the child reaches 16 which extends beyond the child’s sixteenth birthday.
A child can be placed in secure accommodation under a court order for up to three months on a first application to the court and for up to six months on any further application. The court can, of course, make a shorter term order, known as an interim order, for a lesser period.
In some cases where the Local Authority are concerned that a child is suffering or is at risk of suffering very serious harm the Local Authority may apply for a Care Order.
Normally a parent (or carer with a court order) has parental responsibility for their child. This means that they have responsibility for their child and for making important welfare decisions. If a care order is made it gives the Local Authority parental responsibility but it does not mean that a parent ceases to have parental responsibility for their child.
A care order however gives the Local Authority the overriding authority to make important decisions concerning a child, for example where a child shall live, even if the parents or carers are not in agreement. The Local Authority does have a duty to consult with any other person who holds parental responsibility for the child about any important issues for that child but the Local Authority has the final decision about arrangements for the child.
If social services are so concerned that they consider the child’ safety requires his or her removal from her family the court may list the case for an emergency interim care hearing to determine the issue. The court only agrees that children should be removed from their family at an early stage in the proceedings in the most exceptional of cases.
In some cases where the Local Authority are concerned about a child who may be at risk of harm or neglect, the Local Authority may apply to the court for a supervision order. This is a measure the Local Authority will take to improve their safeguarding of the child.
A supervision order places a Local Authority under a duty to “advise, assist and befriend the child”. This normally means that a social worker will provide support to the child and their family and monitor the child’s care to make sure that they are safe and protected.
The making of a supervision order does not give the Local Authority parental responsibility for the child and does not allow the Local Authority to remove the child from the care of their parent or any other person with parental responsibility with whom the child is living. The parent (or any other person who held parental responsibility before the making of the supervision order) continues to hold parental responsibility following the making or the Order.
A supervision order may contain certain requirements, for example to comply with specific directions by the supervisor, who is usually the social worker. If a child in the parent’s care is subject to a supervision order the parent should make sure that they comply with any directions and work with the social worker.
The Local Authority applies for a placement order when the plan for a child is to be adopted. A Placement Order authorises a Local Authority to place a child with permanent carers with the intention that those carers should eventually adopt the child. Only a Local Authority, and not an individual, can apply for a Placement Order. If granted, a Placement Order should be seen as the first step towards the child being adopted.
Before applying for a Placement Order the Local Authority should first seek the approval of the plan for adoption through its own internal procedures and the decision has to be approved by a senior member of the social services team called the Agency Decision Maker (ADM).
After a Placement Order is made a parent will share parental responsibility with the Adoption Agency, which is sometimes the Local Authority. Whilst the making of a Placement Order does not remove a parent’s parental responsibility in practice a parent will not be able to exercise parental responsibility for the child. This is because the Adoption Agency has a right to limit a parent’s parental responsibility and in practical terms the child will often be placed with prospective adopters and the child’s whereabouts will be unknown to the parent.
Once the Placement Order is made – whether parental consent has been given or the court has dispensed with it – a parent may not oppose the making of an Adoption Order at a later stage unless the court gives permission for the parent to do so. A court will only give permission if there has been a significant change in circumstances.
Special Guardianship order/SGO
In some circumstances children are not able to live with their parents and have to be cared for by someone else. A special guardianship order can be made when it is intended that a child should live permanently with carers who are not their parents, often relatives or family friends. The aim of a special guardianship order is to legally secure the child’s permanent placement with those carers.
A special guardianship order gives parental responsibility to the carers who become known as “Special Guardians”. When the order is made the parents retain parental responsibility for their child but the special guardians can exercise their own parental responsibility to the exclusion of others, including the parents. This means that special guardians can make important decisions concerning the child and are not required to consult with the child’s parents. There are some important exceptions to this, for example, where a special guardian wishes to a change of the child’s surname or remove the child from England and Wales for a period of more than 3 months. In these cases the consent of the parents or permission of the court is required.
A special guardianship order is intended to be a permanent long term order enabling the special guardian to care for the child until he or she is 18 years of age.
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