ROLE OF CAFCASS: This guide also explains how care proceedings work and what role Cafcass would have if your child goes into care.
A ‘care order’ usually means your child is being taken into care. The council would share some responsibilities on the important decisions.
For example, they would have a say in the child’s upbringing, such as:
- Who will be looking after the child.
- Where the child will be living.
- How the child will receive an education.
If there is no care order, you do not lose parental responsibility for your child as an automatic process. But, you would need to agree that your child gets ‘taken care of’ by the council.
In all cases, the local council authority would have the responsibility of:
- Ensuring that only ‘suitable people’ provide an appropriate standard of care when looking after the child.
- Making sure all staff and any foster carers receive proper training and adequate support.
- Understanding the views of the child and parents on care arrangements. The council should also take race, culture, religion, and background into account.
- Ensuring the child has an independent person to talk to and making sure they know how to make a complaint (where necessary).
Cases of neglect and abuse are the ones that trigger local authorities into action. As a rule, if your child is taken into care they would usually get placed with another ‘trusted’ family relative or:
- A foster carer
- A children’s home
Care Orders Explained
It would be a court that issues a care order in the United Kingdom. The care order grants a council permission to take a child into their care.
A council authority may apply for a care order under the Children Act 1989. As a rule, it must believe that a child is suffering, or is at risk of suffering, significant harm. In this case, the court would decide whether (or not) the child can get taken into care.
Only children under the age of eighteen (18) can be taken into care and the order would last until:
- The child reaches their 18th birthday.
- The court discharges the order (it gets lifted).
- A court order gives parental responsibility to another person (e.g. through adoption or special guardianship).
Complain about Treatment of Children in Care
If you feel your child is being mistreated you can discuss the issues with your child’s carer or social worker. You can also complain about your council if you are unhappy with the treatment of your child in care.
Expert Support for Parents
The help line at Family Rights Group Advice Service provides professional and confidential support for concerned parents:
If the Council Starts Care Proceedings
If the council have major worries about the safety of a child they can start ‘care proceedings’. If they get a ‘care order’ they will have parental responsibility for the child. That means they would be able to determine where your child will live.
If they get a ‘placement order’ it usually means the council is making plans for child adoption. The order would allow them to place the child with suitable adopters.
Interim Care Order (temporary)
Often, the council would ask a family court to issue a temporary court order. An ‘interim care order’ is temporary and usually takes place at the start of any care proceedings.
If a court grants the interim order to the council it means they can take the child into care on a temporary basis. As a rule, it would last for up to eight (8) weeks in the first instance.
Cafcass Looking into the Case
The process of a court deciding what should happen to a child is slow. In most cases, it will take up to six (6) months or even longer on some of the most complex cases.
A Cafcass official, a social worker, and others, will be looking at the case during this period. Cafcass stands for the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service. They will be trying to understand more about the case, why the child is at risk, and what needs doing to keep them safe.
They will discuss their concerns with the parents as well as the child. They might also approach other members of the family and close friends. If it is unsafe for the child to live at home they might suggest that one of them looks after them. It is also commonplace for the parents to get some support at this stage.
Making a Report
The court will receive a report written by the social worker and the official from Cafcass. The reports, based on a professional opinion, outline what should happen to the child.
The report also includes whether they feel the child should stay with the family or get taken into care. The court will arrange for a hearing after it has gathered all the information.
Going to the Court Hearing
As a rule, there will be a court hearing after they gather all the information. A judge will take a look at the reports of the case and listen to everyone involved, including:
- The child and their parents.
- Solicitors who are representing the parents and children.
- The social worker from the council.
- The officer from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service.
If the judge decides that the child is safe, they will be able to return home. If not, the council authority will find another place for them to live. As a rule, it will be with:
- Other family members or a close friend.
- An independent and new family.
- A children’s home or a foster carer.
What Does Cafcass Do?
During these types of care proceedings, a Children’s Guardian from Cafcass would represent the rights and the interests of the child. They spend some time getting to know the whole family before attending a hearing.
The main role of a Children’s Guardian is to:
- Appoint a solicitor to represent the child.
- Advise the court about what needs doing before they make their decision.
- Inform the court what they believe would be best for the child (they will include the wishes and feelings of the child).
The Children’s Guardian will report to the court on whether they have seen the child (or not) before writing their report.
They may discuss the situation with other people who are familiar with the family. Typical examples include social workers, health visitors, and teachers. They may also:
- Attend any meetings based around the child.
- Check into records and read the case file at the local council.
- Make recommendations to the court on whether other independent professionals should provide their advice (e.g. a doctor or a psychologist).
Note: Cafcass officials work independent of the court and the council. The Cafcass website has further information on care proceedings and what Cafcass does.
Educating Children Taken into Care
If your child is taken into care the council would be responsible for arranging their education. They must have a person in control (called a ‘virtual school head’). Their role is to ensure social workers, and others, provide proper and adequate attention to a child’s education while they are in care.
Note: A ‘designated teacher’ has the responsibility for all children in care at the same school as your child. The overall care plan for your child will include education.
The child’s social worker, foster carer, or residential care worker will make most of the decisions for their welfare. Depending on the specific circumstances it can also involve the parents as well.
Responsibility for ensuring the child can achieve their full potential rests with the social worker. Their tasks also include:
- Working with the school to draw up and implement a personal education plan.
- Ensuring they get proper support at school and keep track of school attendance and absence.
- Choosing a school place and applying for it when required.
- Developing the links between child’s designated teacher and the staff at social services.
- Getting involved in any assessment for special educational needs.
- Ensuring foster carers attend events that parents would usually attend (e.g. school activities and parents’ evenings).