Applications for supervision and care orders
In this section, we explain what happens when a local authority makes an application for a supervision order or a care order for your child. This happens when a local authority has serious concerns about the welfare and safety of a child, and the capacity of their parents to meet their needs. We explain the role of Cafcass and the role of a Children’s Guardian in supervision and care proceedings.
When and why a local authority makes an application for a supervision order
The local authority social worker who is concerned about the welfare or safety of a child and the capacity of their parents to meet their needs will consult with their manager and legal adviser to decide if the ‘Welfare Checklist’ is met before making an application to the court for a supervision order. The final decision to make an application to the court is made by a senior manager on the advice of a local authority solicitor.
In most cases, the child and family are already known to the local authority and may have had an assessment and received local authority family support services. The child may have been the subject of a ‘child in need’ plan and/or a ‘child protection’ plan.
The Children Act 1989 has a ‘no order’ principle, which requires the local authority to test all forms of support to enable you to care for your child before making an application to the court for an order. If the local authority believes that a court order is needed to protect the welfare and safety of your child, it has to consider the least intrusive order first. A supervision order does not give the local authority ‘parental responsibility’. Only a care order does that.
The local authority will make an application for a supervision order, rather than a care order, when they decide that the risks to your child are not yet so serious to warrant a care order and they believe that you have the capacity to change and sustain the changes necessary to care for your child. However, they also believe an order of the court is needed for you to co-operate fully and meaningfully with them to make those changes and stick with them. The local authority will work with you to draw up a supervision order plan that sets out how they will support you and monitor the changes you are making to provide ‘good enough’ care for your child and safeguard their welfare. The plan should also set out what will happen if you fail to make and sustain those changes. This could result in an application for a care order.
When and why a local authority makes an application for a care order
The local authority social worker who is concerned about the welfare or safety of a child and the capacity of their parents to meet their needs will consult with their manager and legal adviser to decide if the ‘Welfare Checklist’ is met before making an application to the court for a care order. The final decision to make an application to the court is made by a senior manager on the advice of a local authority solicitor.
In many cases, the child and family are already known to the local authority and may have had an assessment and received local authority family support services. The child may have been the subject of a ‘child in need’ plan and/or a ‘child protection’ plan. The local authority is required to provide further advice and support under the Public Law Outline (PLO) before making the application to the court, unless it is an emergency or there is an immediate risk of significant harm to the child.
If there are no immediate concerns about the safety of the child, the child’s parents should have received a PLO letter from the local authority before making an application to the court. The PLO letter should set out its concerns about the welfare and safety of the child, its concerns about the capacity of the child’s parents to meet their child’s welfare needs and safety, to make and sustain the changes needed to provide ‘good enough’ care, and the advice and support they will provide to help the child’s parents make those changes. The letter should also set out the timescale for the child’s parents to make those changes.
During the PLO stage before making an application to the court, the local authority should have explored other options for the care of the child if the parents are unable to make and sustain the necessary changes. This should include identifying, approaching, and assessing members of the child’s wider family. This can sometimes result in an agreement with the parents for the child to live with one of their relatives. Those relatives will be assessed by the local authority as ‘kinship foster carers’ while the local authority decides what they believe is in the best interests of the child. If the child’s parents cannot make the necessary changes and the assessment of the relatives is positive, the local authority may decide to support those relative to apply for a Special Guardianship Order.
The concerns the local authority will have to make them consider applying for a care order
The local authority must satisfy the court that the child has suffered or is likely to suffer significant harm in the care of their parents, whether they are together or apart. The concerns of your local authority may include:
The local authority believes a child is being neglected or is at risk of being neglected to such a degree that they have or will suffer significant harm. Neglect involves ongoing, serious failure to meet a child’s basic needs in a way that puts their health and/or safety at risk. The parents may have so many needs themselves that they do not have the capacity to provide good enough care for their child or are not willing and/or able to make the changes required to care safely for their child. This can result in the child:
living in poor home conditions that risk the child’s health and safety, including the child’s poor personal hygiene.
not having enough to eat or drink to be healthy or unhealthy food or too much to eat;
not seeing a health visitor or doctor or dentist when they need to;
not going to nursery or receiving an education and their development being delayed; and
not being adequately supervised to keep the child safe, including a failure to protect them from injuries caused by accidents and being in the company of people or animals that pose a risk to the child.
When the local authority has evidence to believe that a child has been or is likely to be abused by their parents or carers, or by other people their parents or carers allow their child to spend time with, or the child’s parents have failed in their duty to protect their child from abuse. Abuse includes:
physical abuse, which is inflicting pain or injury to a child and includes giving or forcing a child to ingest harmful substances, such as drugs, alcohol or poisonous substances like salt;
sexual abuse, when a child is pressured, forced, or tricked into taking part in any kind of sexual activity; and
emotional abuse, when a parent or carer behaves in a way or allows others to behave in a way that is likely to seriously affect the child’s emotional wellbeing and mental health. This can include withdrawal of love and attention as punishment, different and hurtful treatment to that of siblings or other children in the household, constant rejection aimed at causing emotional pain, continual and/or severe criticism, and experiencing domestic abuse by living in a home where domestic abuse is present.
The local authority may also make an application for a care order when there is no one they can identify who is available, willing and suitable to care for a child.