What exactly is a care order?

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Q. Social Services have been investigating myself and my children following reports made by my ex-partner’s family. Even though these reports are not true a care order has been mentioned. Could I please have more information on what this is?

A. A care order is given by a court and puts a child under the care of a local Health and Social Care (HSC) Trust. The Trust then share parental responsibility for the child with the parents and will make most of the important decisions about the child’s upbringing, such as where they live and what school they go to.

The Trust can apply to the court for a care order. However, before they apply for a court order it will investigate the child’s circumstances. The Trust may start these investigations for any of the following reasons:-

when directed to do so by the court

when the child has persistently failed to comply with an education supervision order

when it suspects that a child in its area is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm

when a child is in police protection

when a child assessment order has been made

when an emergency protection order has been made. This is an order to protect the child from harm by removal from a place or the requirement to stay in a specific place.

When the Trust has investigated your child’s circumstances, it will work with your family to resolve the problems by providing support services to the child and you as a family in the community. It will also discuss with you and your child the possibility of accommodating the child for a limited period until the problems can be resolved.

If, having tried to resolve the problems in the ways outlined above, the Trust believes that the child is still at risk, it will apply to the court for a care order.

The application is made to the family proceedings court of the magistrates court. The court will appoint a person to look after the child’s interest during the court proceedings.

If the court decides that the child is at risk it may make a care order or a supervision order. A supervision order requires a child to be supervised by a social worker for up to a year. It could also make a residence or contact order instead of a care order.

A residence order says who the child should live with. This could be with just one parent or with both parents. If it’s with both parents, the residence order will say how much time the child should live with each one.

A contact order says who the child should have contact with and what sort of contact this should be, for example, visiting, telephoning or writing letters. A contact order might include other conditions, and can be made to allow contact between the child and other relatives or friends.

Getting legal advice

Anyone involved in care proceedings should seek legal advice from a specialist in child law.

Appealing against or ending a care order

You or your child must appeal against a care order within 21 days of the order being made. You, your child or the Trust can apply to end the order or change it to a supervision order at any time. The care order can last until a child is 18.

Contact with a child in care

The Trust must encourage contact between a child in care and parents, relatives and friends. It must also allow reasonable contact between the child and you as parents.

Arrangements for contact will normally be agreed between Trust, you and your child. However, if it is not possible to reach an agreement, the court can make a court order detailing what contact your child should have with other people.

Reviewing the child’s circumstances

The Trust is required by law to review the circumstances of a child in its care within four weeks of the child first being looked after. The local authority must conduct a second review within three months of the first review, and it must conduct subsequent reviews every six months. The review will discuss the plan which has been drawn up for the child. The local authority will consider what progress has been made in implementing the plan, and whether there needs to be any changes made to it.

For further help get free, confidential and independent advice from your nearest Citizens Advice at www.citizensadvice.co.uk or for further information go to www.citizensadvice.org.uk/nireland