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29 Care Proceedings

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1 Introduction

2. Who can make decisions about my child's care?

3. Why would social services get involved in my child's care?

4. What happens when social services start care proceedings?

5. What happens at the first hearing?

6. What orders can the court make at the first hearing?

7. Who will represent my child during proceedings?

8. What happens after an interim order is made?

9. How do I prepare for the final hearing?

10. What happens at the final hearing?

11. How does the court make its decision?

12. What types of order can the court make?

There are several final orders the court can make.  

Supervision order

This means you remain responsible for your child’s care but social services have the power to ‘supervise’ how you care for your child. A supervision order lasts up to one year unless the local authority asks the court for an extension (which can be at most two more years). If a supervision order is made, the local authority will generally agree a ‘contract’ or supervision plan with you. This will set out what is expected of you, and the services the local authority will provide.

Care order

This is an order that places your child in the care of a particular local authority and gives parental responsibility to that authority. This does not mean you will lose parental responsibility but it does mean the local authority can override your wishes if it believes this would be best for your child. However, they must have consulted you first.

For this order to be made, your child must be under 17 years old. The local authority that looks after your child is usually the local authority for the area where your child lives. 

The court must also decide how and when you and other family members, such as brothers and sisters, will see your child if he or she is not returning to live with you. You will be able to comment on the contact arrangements the local authority suggests. If you are unhappy about them, tell your solicitor what you want. If you disagree with what is decided and you want the arrangements changed, you can apply for a contact order. You may be able to apply for public funding (legal aid) for this but if you apply for it after the proceedings have finished, you will not automatically get it.

Once a care order is made, the local authority will decide where your child will live. At some point this may be back with you. The local authority will also be responsible for maintaining your child (making sure they have money to live on).

The local authority should support you so that, unless the risks to your child are too high he or she can be return to your care, or to the care of other members of your family if that is not possible.

The local authority must hold regular case reviews every six months to consider how their plans for your child may need to change. An Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO), who is ‘independent from the management of the case’ (in other words, is separate from the people dealing with your child), will be appointed to look at the care plan. At your child’s review meetings, the IRO should make sure your views are heard, even if you cannot attend or you have not been invited. Your other commitments should be taken into account when arranging a date and time for the review meeting. If you do not speak English, the local authority should make sure you have an interpreter. They should also make sure that you can get to the meeting if you are disabled. The local authority should tell you about all the decisions made at the meeting, if you aren’t able to attend.

The law on adoption changed at the end of 2019. Since then, local authorities can place your child for adoption only if they have a care order, and:

  • you give your formal consent (agreement) to the placement; or
  • the court makes a placement order.

There are special rules for cases begun before the end of 2019. For more about this, contact the Family Rights Group (see ‘Further help’).

Residence order

This order would mean your child would live with someone else, such as a member of your family, without social services being involved. It would give that person parental responsibility for the period of the order.

Special guardianship order

This is a new type of order that the court can make to place a child for longer periods with someone who is not their parent. It is meant to be more permanent than a residence order because a parent cannot apply to revoke (cancel) the order without the court’s permission. However, a special guardianship order does not break the legal relationship between a parent and child.

If a special guardianship order is made for your child, the special guardian will gain parental responsibility for him or her. You will still have parental responsibility as well, but the special guardian has the right to override your wishes if you cannot agree. For more about how special guardianship orders work, contact the Family Rights Group (see ‘Further help’).

Contact order

Under this order, the court should consider the arrangements for you to see your child if they are not returning to live with you, and for your child to see their brothers, sisters and other relatives, if that would be good for him or her. The court can make a contact order setting out the contact arrangements, if these are not agreed.

13. How long does a care order last?

14. How can I apply to end a care order?

15. Further help

16. About this leaflet







The leaflets are regularly updated but the law may have changed since they were printed so the information in them may be incorrect or out of date.




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