Local authorities have a legal duty to investigate the circumstances of any child where they have cause to suspect that a child is at risk of “significant harm”. A local authority must consider whether any steps are necessary to promote a child welfare – including an application to the Court.
The local authority may ultimately apply to the Court for a range of orders including:
Child Assessment Order that the child be produced and made available for an assessment for up to 7 days
Emergency Protection Order (EP0). This gives parental responsibility for the child to the local authority and authorises removal of the child to local authority organised accommodation – various supplementary orders to enforce an EP0 are also available.
Interim or Full Care Order - an order placing a child within the care of a local authority. This puts a local authority under a duty to accommodate and maintain a child – and gives the local authority parental responsibility for a child. A final care order lasts until a child attains l8 unless it is first discharged by another Court Order
Supervision Order - This obliges a local authority to advise, assist and befriend the child – where promoting a child’s welfare requires this.
A Court will be cautious about making a Care Order and must be satisfied that the “threshold” criteria have been met.
- The child is at risk of significant harm and
- That the risk of harm arises because of the quality of care that the child is receiving or because the child is beyond parental control
- If (1) and (2) are made out the Court will consider the Children Act criteria (see separate note) and consider whether in light of this any Order should be made and if so what order is appropriate.
The making of a Care Order is not a bar to contact between the child and their parent. The local authority has a duty to allow reasonable contact – and the Court can order this to take place where appropriate.
There is a new code of good practice in relation to care proceedings known as the “Public Law Outline” (PL0). This is designed to promote earlier and more conciliatory resolution of disputes between parents and local authorities. This code is designed to provide for better management of Court cases – with one judge allocated to manage each case from beginning to end.
Within care proceedings the Court will appoint a “Guardian” to represent the interests of the child. This is separate representation to the local authority and the parents. The Guardian will be under a duty to investigate and report to the Court. The Guardian has extensive powers to interview parties, view official records, secure reports from experts such as psychologists and so on.
There can scarcely be a field of law more daunting for a parent to face. Lawson Lewis Blakers. are able to provide determined and sympathetic representation. Advice at an early stage is advisable and legal aid is available.