Care Orders - section 31 Children Act 1989

Posted on Sunday, 30th Aug, 2015 at 12:50:50 PM
These orders are usually sought by a local authority (although the NSPCC can bring proceedings it is extremely rare for them to do so) in respect of children who they believe are suffering or are likely to suffer significant harm and:

a) the harm is attributable to the care being given to the child not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give him or

b) that the child is beyond parental control.

No care or supervision order may be made with respect to a child who has reached the age of 17 (or 16 if the child is married).

Care orders continue until the child is 18 years, unless discharged earlier. Once a local authority has made an application for a care order the court can make a series of interim orders under s38 which gives the local authority parental responsibility and the power to remove the child from home. Further investigations and assessments are carried out before any final orders are made by the court.

While a care order is in force with respect to a child, the local authority designated by the order shall:

a) have parental responsibility for the child

b) have the power to determine the extent to which a parent or guardian of the child may meet his parental responsibility for him.

The local authority can make decisions as to where the child will live and with whom, and how the child will have contact with named people.

There is a positive duty on the local authority to allow reasonable contact between a child in care and their parents. What is reasonable is sometimes in dispute and in those circumstances, the court can be asked to make specific directions about how and when contact should occur.

If the local authority want to suspend or stop contact for a period longer than seven days they need to obtain a court order to do so. If there is a dispute between the local authority and parents about contact, either party can seek a court order to define contact. If the local authority believe that there should be no contact between the child and his parent / guardian the court can make an order authorising the local authority to refuse to allow any contact.

Sometimes children who are the subject of care orders will remain at home being cared for by their parents, however it is more usual for children who are the subject of care orders to live with foster carers or in residential establishments.

Although the local authority has parental responsibility there are some decisions which require everyone with parental responsibility to agree including:
1) agreeing for the child to be adopted
2) causing the child to be brought up in any religious persuasion other than that which they would have been brought up if the care order had not been made
3) allowing the child to live outside the UK for more than 28 days.
If agreement cannot be reached then the court can make an order.

Where the plans for the child are for adoption or to live outside England or Wales, further court orders specifically permitting this are required. The Adoption and Children Act 2002 and supporting regulations require local authorities to give early consideration to applying for a placement order or obtaining the consent of birth parents to placement.

Children who are the subject of care orders are the subject of regular reviews by the local authority. Each child will have an individual care plan that sets out how all their needs will be met. These reviews will consider amongst other things the arrangements for contact with the family and others, as well as the child's health and educational needs. All local authorities must appoint Independent Reviewing Officers who must work to ensure compliance with care plans.

The local authority has responsibilities to ensure that plans are made and preparations in place before the child is 18, to enable the child to make the transition to independence, and the local authority continues to have duties towards the child until they are 23 years old.

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