Cafcass contributes to new report on supervision orders and special guardianship orders

A new study using Cafcass data has explored the prevalence and impact of supervision orders and special guardianship orders – both alone and together – made by the family court.

Supervision orders are made by the court to help families stay together and usually last for a year, in which time the local authority will ‘advise, assist or befriend’ the child and family. Special guardianship orders place a child to live permanently with someone other than their parents, mainly relatives, up to the age of 18. Neither order confers parental responsibility on the local authority.

Against the backdrop of a major increase in care applications in recent years, the study found that there has only been a small proportionate rise in standalone supervision orders (from 14% in 2010/11 to 15% in 2016/17) as legal outcomes. A higher proportionate rise was seen in special guardianship orders as legal outcomes – from 11% to 17% over the same period.Interestingly the study highlighted that between 2007/08 and 2016/17, there were significantly fewer applications for either a supervision order (6%) or special guardianship order (1%) than those eventually ordered by the court.

The study also found that one in five children on a standalone supervision order return to court for new s31 proceedings within five years – a much higher return rate than other types of order.

Since 2014/15, cases that concluded with a supervision order, a special guardianship order, or child arrangements order all had a higher probability of returning to court within two years for new s31 proceedings than cases that were concluded before that date.

The overarching aim of the study was to understand the opportunities, challenges and outcomes of these orders, and their use at national and regional level. It used population-level data routinely collected by Cafcass and also included analysis of children’s files at four local authorities. There was also data linkage with Department for Education (DfE) databases to understand what happened after the end of the order, including the local authority’s assessment of the welfare of the children involved.

The study was funded by the Nuffield Foundation and led by Professor Judith Harwin of Lancaster University. It also involved focus groups with practitioners, two with Cafcass, to understand their views on the contribution that supervision orders (standalone or attached to another order) and SGOs make to family justice, children’s services and child outcomes.

Teresa Williams, Cafcass Director of Strategy, said: “This important study illustrates the difficult balance that courts need to strike between keeping families together where possible and ensuring children are safe. It highlights the key role supervision orders and special guardianship orders are playing in achieving that balance to deliver the best possible outcomes for children.

“While the majority of children do well during the course of a standalone supervision order, the 20% rate of return to court is a concern. This raises questions as to whether the arrangements for children both during the course of the order and afterwards are sufficient to protect them from further harm given the complex and chronic problems many of their families face.

“Cafcass is committed to working with partners over the coming months, to strengthen pathways that deliver stability for the child in an appropriate timeframe and in a nationally consistent way.”

For further information about the study, please see the final report or summary report.

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