Threshold Criteria

Posted on Sunday, 30th Aug, 2015 at 09:03:52 PM
The Threshold Criteria for a Care Order or a Supervision Order, as outlined in Section 31 of the Children Act 1989 is that a court may only make a Care Order or Supervision Order if it is satisfied that:

The Children are suffering or likely to suffer significant harm and
That the harm or likelihood of harm is attributable to:

The care given to the child is not what it would be reasonable to expect the parent to give him or
The children are beyond parental control.

Threshold criteria are essential to prove in a care case, because they are used as the basis to conclude that a child is either suffering or is at risk of suffering significant harm.

If there is no significant harm present or any risk of significant harm in the future, there CANNOT be a care or supervision order. This is because the requirements of section 31(2) of the Children Act 1989 will not be met.

In order to justify making a care or supervision order, the court has to satisfy a two stage test:

The first stage the threshold stage there must be sufficient reasons to justify making a care or supervision order or in other words, the case must cross a threshold. This threshold can only be crossed if the court agrees that things have happened which have already caused significant harm to a child, or pose a serious risk that significant harm will be suffered in the future.

The second stage the welfare stage even if the threshold is crossed, it must be in the childs best interests to make an order. It is not inevitable that a care order will be made every time a child has suffered significant harm (but it is likely).


If the LA can demonstrate evidence (on a balance of probabilities) that the threshold criteria have been met, the Court will then go on to consider whether making a Care or Supervision Order would be in the childs best interests.

Whether a child is likely or not to suffer harm will also form part of the criteria for the initiation of a S.47 investigation but may be an actual lower threshold than the test applied by the Court. Thresholds of harm for a S.47 investigation are likely to be defined by the local LSCB or local practice in a LA area. Not defined in law...

Significant Harm The Children Act 1989 defines harm as ill-treatment or the impairment of health or development. Development means physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development; health means physical or mental health; and ill-treatment includes sexual abuse and forms of ill-treatment which are not physical. As a result of the Adoption and Children Act 2002, the definition of harm also includes impairment suffered by hearing or seeing the ill-treatment of another.

According to Working Together, significant harm refers to the threshold that justifies compulsory intervention in family life in the best interests of children, and gives LAs a duty to make enquiries to decide whether they should take action to safeguard or promote the welfare of a child who is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm.

The legislation, however, does not define the line between harm and significant harm. As a practitioner, you should give significant its ordinary meaning (i.e. considerable, noteworthy or important). The childs particular characteristics also need to be taken into consideration. For example, a child left home alone at the age of 3 could be at risk of significant harm, whereas a child aged 13 years may be less likely so. The test will be subjective to the particular circumstances.

Working Together lists the following as factors to consider in understanding and identifying significant harm:

The nature of harm, in terms of maltreatment or failure to provide adequate care;

The impact on the childs health and development;

The childs development within the context of their family and wider environment;

Any special needs, such as a medical condition, communication impairment or
disability, that may affect the childs development and care within the family;

The capacity of parents to meet adequately the childs needs; and
The wider and environmental family context.

Likely to Suffer
A child being likely to suffer significant harm does not mean that there is a more than 50 percent chance that the child will suffer or that it is more likely than not that the child will suffer significant harm. If a Court considers the likelihood of harm to be based on past events regarding which there are disputed facts, it must first make a finding of fact before treating the past event as a grounding of future risk, as has been held by the Supreme Court in Re. S-B [2009] UKSC 17.

It should also be understood that the care proceedings standard of proof is the ordinary standard i.e. on the balance of probabilities. This means that if it is more likely than not that your child is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm no matter how slight the margin the threshold criteria may be considered to have been met.

The welfare checklists
The Children Act 1989 checklist

(a) the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned (considered in the light of his age and understanding);
(b) his physical, emotional and educational needs;
(c) the likely effect on him of any change in his circumstances;
(d) his age, sex, background and any characteristics of his which the court considers relevant;
(e )any harm which he has suffered or is at risk of suffering;
(f) how capable each of his parents, and any other person in relation to whom the court considers the question to be relevant, is of meeting his needs;
(g) the range of powers available to the court under this Act in the proceedings in question.


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