Care Proceedings: What types of order can the court make?
There are several final orders the court can make:
This is an order that places your child in the care of a particular council and gives it parental responsibility. This does not mean you will lose parental responsibility but it does mean the council can override your wishes if it believes this would be best for your child. However, it must have consulted you first.
For this order to be made, your child must be under 17 years old. The council that looks after your child is usually the local council for the area where your child lives.
A care order means that the council must provide a place for your child to live (for example with relatives or foster carers) and is responsible for your child’s ‘maintenance’ (making sure they have money to live on). Occasionally your child remains at home with you under a care order, but the council still makes all decisions and can remove your child at any time if they are concerned about the care the child is receiving.
When the court makes a care order, it must also decide how and when you and other family members, such as brothers and sisters, will see your child if he or she is not returning to live with you. You will be able to comment on the contact arrangements the council suggests. If you are unhappy about them, tell your solicitor what you want. If you disagree with what is decided and you want the arrangements changed, you can apply for a contact order. You may be able to receive legal aid for this application, but this will depend on how much income and money you have, and on the circumstances of your case.
If the council is granted a care order , its plans for your child will be set out in the care plan filed at court. This plan must be reviewed regularly and you should be consulted about this (see ‘What must the council do after a care order is made?’).
A full care order remains in force until your child is 18 years old, unless the court:
- makes a residence or special guardianship order;
- decides that the order should end (known as ‘discharging’ the order);
- makes a supervision order instead; or
- makes an adoption order.
This means you have parental responsibility and remain responsible for your child’s care, but the council has the power to ‘supervise’ how you care for your child. A supervision order lasts up to one year but the council can ask the court for an extension for up to two more years.
If a supervision order is made, the council will generally agree a ‘contract’ or supervision plan with you. This will set out what is expected of you, and the services the council will provide.
This order would mean that your child would live with someone else, such as a member of your family, without the council being involved. It would give that person parental responsibility for the period of the order.
When the court makes a residence order it may also consider the arrangements for you to see your child (if they are not returning to live with you) and for your child to see their brothers, sisters and other relatives, if that would be good for them.
If the person holding the residence order does not agree to contact arrangements, the court can make a ‘contact order’ that sets out what the contact arrangements will be (see ‘Contact order’ below).
Special guardianship order
This court order places a child with someone who is not their parent in a longer-term arrangement. It is more permanent than a residence order because a parent cannot apply to ‘revoke’ (end) the order without the court’s permission. The court can give this permission only where the circumstances have changed significantly since the order was made. However, a special guardianship order (SGO) does not break the legal relationship between a parent and child.
If an SGO is made for your child, the special guardian will gain parental responsibility for him or her. You will still have parental responsibility as well, but the special guardian has the right to override your wishes if you cannot agree. For more about how special guardianship orders work, contact the Family Rights Group (see ‘Further help’).
When the court makes an SGO, it must also consider arrangements for a child’s contact with their family and whether to make a contact order.
The court should consider the arrangements for you to see your child if they are not returning to live with you, and for your child to see their brothers, sisters and other relatives, if that would be good for him or her. The court can make a contact order setting out the contact arrangements, if these are not agreed.
In rare cases the council may consider that your child should be placed for adoption.
Where adoption is planned, the council will probably apply for a ‘placement order’ at the final hearing. This order allows the council to place your child with prospective adopters even if you don’t consent to this.
There are further legal proceedings before the court can make an ‘adoption order’. If your child is adopted, he or she will stop being a member of your family, and will become legally related to the adoptive parents. Once a placement order has been made, there are only very limited circumstances in which you can later apply to end it or to oppose adoption.
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