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Our role in public law proceedings

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Our role in public law proceedings

When a local authority makes an application for an order to safeguard the welfare of a child, this is described as public law proceedings. This is where the local authority has decided that a child is no longer safe with the person with whom they live. In public law proceedings, the child is automatically a party to the proceedings and is represented in those proceedings by a Cafcass social worker, known as a ‘Children’s Guardian’ and by their own solicitor.

The information on this page is for social workers and other professionals working with children who are in public law court proceedings. If you are a young person who is the subject of any of the orders described below, please visit our section for you

If you are a parent, carer or family member and the child for whom you are responsible is the subject of any of the public law orders described below, please visit our section for you.

There are a number of public law orders that a local authority can apply for in the family court. These include:

  • Care orders – The local authority is given parental responsibility for the child and will share it with others, such as the child’s parents. The making of a care order allows the local authority to overrule others with parental responsibility in the event of a dispute about decisions relating to the child’s care, except in certain circumstances where a court decision may be necessary. A care order will last until a child turns 18 unless it is discharged by the court.  
  • Supervisions orders – This places a duty on the local authority to ‘advise, assist and befriend’ the child, but does not give the local authority parental responsibility. A supervision order may involve a child living in a specified place, taking part in certain activities, and reporting to a particular place at a given time. 
  • Emergency protection orders – This allows the local authority to remove a child from where they are living or prevent the child from leaving their home if they think the child would be likely to suffer significant harm. 
  • Secure accommodation orders – This allows a local authority to place a young person in a children’s home that has restrictions. This order can only be made if the young person has a history of running away and would be likely to suffer significant harm if they ran away, or the young person is likely to hurt themselves or others if they are not in secure accommodation.
  • Deprivation of Liberty orders – If permission is given by the court, this allows the local authority to restrict a child’s freedom. This may be by requiring them to be supervised at all times to keep them safe, or to ensure that they reside within accommodation and are not free to leave.
  • Placement orders – This allows the local authority or adoption agency to make plans for a child to live with someone the local authority or agency has approved as a prospective adopter. A placement order will last until an adoption order is made or until the court decides to end the placement order.  

Another order the court can make is an adoption order, where an adopter approved by an Adoption Agency is given full parental responsibility for a child and the legal relationship between the child and the birth parents comes to an end. Any orders which existed before the making of an adoption order cease to have effect. An adoption order means the child becomes a member of the adoptive family forever. It is the prospective adopters who apply for an adoption order and not the local authority, but the local authority will provide a report about the adopters and why they have been matched to the child. The child is not usually a party to proceedings in adoption proceedings, so there will not be a children’s guardian, but the court can decide to add the child as a party in certain circumstances and will then appoint a guardian to represent their interests. 

In some situations, a person may decide they want to adopt their partner’s child or children. This is known as step-parent adoption. To do this, the person would need to make an application to the court for an adoption order. If successful, the legal relationship between the child and their other biological parent would end and the step-parent (alongside their partner who is the biological parent of the child) would be given full parental responsibility for the child. The court may ask us to become involved, where our role is to make sure the adults understand what the adoption means for them and the child, and to make sure that the other birth parent really does agree to it. 

The role of Cafcass in public law proceedings 

A Cafcass Children’s Guardian is qualified social worker appointed by the court to promote the child’s welfare, represent their wishes and feelings, and to make sure that the arrangements for the child are in their best interests. While we set out practice quality standards and hold children’s guardians accountable for meeting those standards, a children’s guardian has a high level of independence in making their professional judgements in individual proceedings. This is different to a social worker in children’s social care, who represents the judgement and decisions of the local authority.

A key part of the Children’s Guardian’s role is to:  

  • appoint a solicitor to represent the child in court and to instruct the solicitor (Occasionally the child and children’s guardian do not agree on what is in the child’s best interests and if the solicitor decides that the child is of sufficient age and understanding, the child may be able to instruct the solicitor if the court gives permission for this to happen.);
  • speak with the child’s social worker and independent reviewing officer. (An independent reviewing officer is someone who works for children’s social care services and oversees the local authority plans for children and their living (placement) arrangements are meeting the child’s needs.);
  • see and engage with the child to understand what and who is important to them, what life is like for them and to ascertain their wishes and feelings;
  • scrutinise the local authority assessments and plans for the child to make sure they are in their best interests;
  • speak with other people who are close to the child, and professionals such as their school/nursery, and health visitor; and
  • write a report to the court with recommendations for what should happen for the child, such as an order about who they should live with.  
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Feedback from a father in public law proceedings

I hadn't a clue how to explain to my daughter what was going on in the family and why certain decisions had been made. The guardian gave me tips and advice which was really helpful and worked a treat. They did explain their recommendations, I didn't like all of her recommendations as it meant the it (court process) took longer but I understood why she recommended it and looking back, it was the right thing.

They couldn't have done anything different, everything she did was great and she nailed it.

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