Case management hearings and court orders in care proceedings

The case management hearing

The first stage of a court case concerning your children is the case management hearing.

It is a very important hearing and you need to attend it.

At this hearing the court will decide the dates for each stage of the proceedings. They will take into account any dates that are important for your children, such as exams or birthdays. This is known as the timetable for the child.

The timetable can be reviewed at a later date if needed.

The judge will also make any interim orders (temporary decisions) of where your child will live and who they can see while the case is happening.

If there is anyone in your family who can look after your children during this time, tell your solicitor and the court. The court may suggest a family group conference to see if someone else in the family could look after your children, rather than going to stay with a foster family.

The judge will also set out what evidence and reports they want to see to help them make a decision about where the children will live at the end of the case.

Sometimes further hearings may be needed if there is a lot to cover.

Court orders – what are they?

A court order is the decision made by the court setting out what must happen (what the court orders you to do).

When Children’s Services starts legal proceedings it needs to decide what order (or decision) it wants the court to make. There are a number of different orders it can apply for. The most common ones are listed below.

At the start of care proceedings, Children’s Services may ask for an interim order. This means they are asking the court to make a temporary decision that will last until the court has made its final decision. This final decision could be to make a full order, a different order, or no order at all.

Some orders give Children’s Services parental responsibility – including some interim orders. If Children’s Services has parental responsibility, it can make decisions such as where your child will live and who they should have contact with.

Common court orders in care proceedings

Although there are many different orders a court can make, the most common ones are listed below.

Adoption Order

An Adoption Order in care cases can only be made after a Placement Order. An Adoption Order removes parental responsibility and gives it to the people adopting the child. It ends any other orders, such as a care order. In most cases, the birth parents will no longer have any rights to see or make decisions for the child. They will no longer be seen as the parents.

Care Order/interim Care Order

A Care Order gives Children’s Services shared parental responsibility for a child under the age of 17. It allows Children’s Services to make decisions about the child, such as where the child will live and how much contact they will have with you. As the parent, you will keep some parental responsibility, but Children’s Services can override your decisions if it feels they are not in the best interest of your child.

There are things Children’s Services cannot do, such as changing your child’s religion or placing your child for adoption. Sometimes, Children’s Services will apply for a Care Order even if they plan to leave your child at home, or place them in the care of a family or friend.

How long will a care order last?

If a full Care Order is made it will continue until your child is 18 years old unless it is discharged (ended) by the court before that date.

Child Arrangements (live with) Order

A Child Arrangements Order sets out who a child will live with (this used to be called ‘residence’) and spends time with (this used to be called ‘contact’).

Child Assessment Order

Children’s Services will sometimes want to speak to your child or arrange for a doctor to see them. If you are not willing to let your child be seen, Children’s Services can apply for a Child Assessment Order, which overrules you as parents. A Child Assessment Order lasts for a maximum of seven days.

Emergency Protection Order (EPO)

Children’s Services apply for an EPO when a child is in immediate danger and needs to be either removed to a place of safety or kept where they are (eg in hospital). If successful, Children’s Services is given parental responsibility for the child. An EPO lasts for up to eight days. Because an EPO only lasts a short period of time, it should only be used in urgent situations.

Placement Order

This order gives Children’s Services the right to place your children with people who may eventually adopt them. It takes away your parental responsibility and gives it to an adoption agency.

Usually, you are asked to agree for your child to be adopted. However, the court can make that decision for you if they feel it is in the best interest of the child.

If Children’s Services puts forward a plan for a child to be adopted they must apply for a Placement Order in addition to a Care Order. The court will often make both orders at the same time.

Police protection

Police protection is a little different as it is not a court order. The police have the power to take your child for up to 72 hours if they are worried about their safety. This should only ever be used in an emergency.

Supervision Order/interim Supervision Order

A Supervision Order gives Children’s Services the right to monitor and check on your children. The children may stay with you or live somewhere else. If a Supervision Order is made, Children’s Services will have a duty to ‘advise, befriend and assist the child’. It is not given parental responsibility under a Supervision Order. If a full Supervision Order is made at the end of proceedings it can last for up to 12 months. If Children’s Services thinks that it should continue for longer, it can apply to extend it for up to a further two years.

The court will sometimes make a Supervision Order at the end of a care case where Children’s Services asked for a Care Order, but your child has been returned to your care or that of another family member.

Special guardianship order (SGO)

When Children’s Services start care proceedings, it must find out whether there are any family members or friend who may be able to look after your children, if they cannot return to you.

If there is someone suitable who can look after the children, a Special Guardianship Order is one possible option. You will keep your parental responsibility, but the special guardian has the final say in relation to decisions about your children.

Secure accommodation Order

A Secure Accommodation Order can only be made if:

  • your child has a history of running away from where they are living
  • that they are likely to come to significant harm
  • if they live anywhere else they are likely to harm themselves or other people.

To stop this happening the child will be placed in a secure children’s home that will prevent them from leaving.

It is usually a last resort to place a child in secure accommodation. Children’s Services must be sure that no other option would work to keep the child safe.

Ending a Care Order

The legal term for ending a Care Order is called ‘discharging a Care Order’.

What’s the difference between discharging a care order and appealing against it?

Discharging a care order means you are telling the court that your situation has changed and the order is no longer needed.

Appealing a care order is when you think the decision to grant it in the first place was wrong.

Who can ask the court to discharge an order?

Only certain people can ask the court to discharge a care order. These are:

  • a person with parental responsibility for the child (including the parents)
  • the child involved, or
  • the local authority that was granted the care order.

How do I discharge a care order?

To start the process, you need to apply to the court.

How will the judge decide whether or not to end a care order?

The child’s welfare will always be the main concern for the judge. They will look at whether it is better for the child to end the order than it would be not to. They will decide using the welfare checklist.

Do I have any other option than asking them to discharge the care order?

Instead of asking a court to discharge a care order, you could instead ask for a Child Arrangements (live with) Order. If it is granted, this will end the care order.

The judge will only make a Child Arrangements order if it is in the child’s best interests, which they will decide using the welfare checklist.

Do I have to pay for legal advice if I want to end a care order?

Legal Aid is not ‘automatic’ if you want to end a care order. It is both means- and merit-tested. That means you must qualify financially for Legal Aid. You must also be able to show the Legal Aid Agency that your case deserves it. Find out more about legal aid.

Appealing care orders

Be aware that appealing a care order is very difficult to do. You cannot appeal just because you disagree with the court’s decision. The court will only listen to an appeal for one of the following reasons:

  • The judge made a legal mistake and applied the law wrongly to your case.
  • It wasn’t possible for the judge to make their decision based on the evidence presented to the court (in other words, they didn’t take into account an important piece of evidence or they relied on a piece of evidence that they shouldn’t have).

If you think one of these applies to your case and you want to appeal a decision you need to speak to your lawyer straight away as you only have 21 days to appeal the decision

How do I appeal?

Depending on which court gave the Care Order, you may first have to ask the court’s permission to appeal. You will need to speak to a lawyer if you wish to appeal. If you had a lawyer during the proceedings, you must first ask them about an appeal. If you want to go to a new lawyer for the appeal, they will want to know what your original lawyer advised you.

The lawyer will advise you on whether or not you can appeal and how to do it.

What’s the difference between discharging a care order and appealing against it?

Appealing a care order is when you think the decision to grant it in the first place was wrong.

Discharging a care order means you are telling the court that your situation has changed and the order is no longer needed. Y

Can I get legal aid for an appeal?

Legal aid may be available for an appeal if you have a lawyer to make the application. Legal aid for appeals is means and merits tested. This means that your financial circumstances will be taken in account and whether the appeal has a good chance of success. Your lawyer will undertake the means and merits test for you.