ADVICE GUIDE What is a care order
Care orders and supervision orders
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 or in a children’s home.
Health and Social Services Trusts (HSST's) in Northern Ireland have a duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in need in their area. In fulfilling its duty, the HSST must make the welfare of the child its paramount consideration.
Some children are placed in children’s homes with education provided on the premises. This might be for a variety of reasons such as a problem of persistent truanting or difficult behaviour in school or criminal offences. These homes tend to be larger than children’s homes and provide a more structured and disciplined environment, similar to that of a boarding school.
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, (in Northern Ireland, this includes a person authorised by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, or the NSPCC), 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, or guardian ad litem in Northern Ireland.
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 ad litem in Northern Ireland.
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 one of the following court orders instead of a care order:-
a residence order
a contact order.
A residence order says who the child should live with. This could be with just one parent or with both parents. If it's with both parents, the residence order will say how much time the child should live with each one.
A contact order says who the child should have contact with and what sort of contact this should be, for example, visiting, telephoning or writing letters. A contact order might include other conditions, and can be made to allow contact between the child and other relatives or friends
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.
Anyone wanting to appeal against or end a care order will need expert advice and should consult a solicitor. Contact details of solicitors can be obtained from a Citizens Advice Bureau.
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. A child or young person who has been looked after by the local authority for a period of at least 13 weeks, at some time between the ages of 14 and 17, will be given a personal adviser. The personal adviser will assist in drawing up a plan called a Pathway Plan.
In Northern Ireland, the local authority must agree with you a written plan to meet your child's needs. This will include details of where your child will live, who your child will have contact with, other local authority services you and your child will receive, how disagreements and complaints will be dealt with and when reviews will take place.
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.
The Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995
Care orders and supervision orders
50.—(1) On the application of any authority or authorised person, the court may make an order—
(a) placing the child with respect to whom the application is made in the care of a designated authority; or
(b) putting him under the supervision of a designated authority.
(2) A court may only make a care or a supervision order if it is satisfied—
(a) that the child concerned is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm; and
(b) that the harm, or likelihood of harm, is attributable to—
(i) the care given to the child, or likely to be given to him if the order were not made, not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give to him; or
(ii) the child's being beyond parental control.
(3) Where the question of whether harm suffered by a child is significant turns on the child's health or development, his health or development shall be compared with that which could reasonably be expected of a similar child.
In 1998, Wasted Lives , a study by the penal reform group NIACRO
revealed young prisoners were very likely to have suffered deprivation of all kinds, physical or sexual abuse, and mental illness.
The Northern Ireland The Northern Ireland
Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration investigates complaints of alleged injustice as a consequence of maladministration by Northern Ireland Departments, including their agencies, while the function of the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Complaints investigates similar complaints against local and public bodies.
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