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Placing Children in Care: a Summary

If a council believes that a child is at risk of harm or suffering due to neglect of mistreatment from their parents, it can apply for what is known as a care order from the court.

If the court agrees that the child’s welfare is in jeopardy, then the order is granted and the council will share the parental responsibility for the child.

The local authority will decide where the child should live, and with whom. This will usually be with another relative, a foster carer, or in a children’s home. They will also have input in other important decisions relating to the child, such as where they are educated.

A care order is effective until the child’s 18th birthday, or until parental responsibility has been given to somebody else or the court order is discharged.

Care Proceedings

Before a care order is applied for, local authorities will investigate the child’s circumstances if there is cause for concern.

If the local authority finds the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering serious harm, then it will apply for a care order, which is when care proceedings will begin. An initial hearing will be held at this point.

If the local authority feels that the child is in immediate danger after the initial hearing, it can apply for what is known as an interim order, which is essentially a temporary care order. This order will determine where the child will dwell until the final hearing. Social services are obliged to place the child with relatives in preference to foster carers.

It can often take up to a year before the court decides on the future outcome of the child’s welfare and where the child should reside. This is announced at a final hearing after the case has been carefully considered.

Understanding the Role of Cafcass

During care proceedings, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass), a totally independent organisation, will appoint a Children’s Guardian to represent the rights and interests of the child.

The Children’s Guardian will work alongside a social worker, talking to the child, the parents and sometimes relatives, to assess the case and to ascertain what can be done to ensure the child’s safety.

The Children’s Guardian is responsible for appointing a solicitor to work on behalf of the child, and they will compose a report for the court recommending what the best solution for the child would be, based on what they have gleaned from spending time with them.

The Final Hearing

When all the required information has been gathered, a final court hearing will take place. At the final court hearing the judge will listen to all parties involved, i.e. the parents, the child, social workers, solicitors and Cafcass workers, and will come to a decision about whether the child should return home or be placed (or remain) in care.

The court will base its decision on certain “threshold criteria”, which are that the child has already suffered serious harm or is at risk of doing so in the future, and that this is because the level of care given is below the standard which one would reasonably expect.