What happens when a child is taken into care?
If you are a parent faced with this possibility it is important that you understand the process.
When will a local authority take a child into care?
When the local authority believe a child is being neglected.
Neglect involves ongoing, serious failure to meet a child's basic needs and can include:
- not taking a child to see a doctor when they need to.
- not giving the child enough to eat or drink.
- not keeping the child clean
- when the local authority is worried that the child has been, or is likely, to be abused either by their parents or carers or other people they know.
- physical abuse, which is about inflicting pain or injury to a child and also includes giving a child harmful substances, such as drugs, alcohol or poison.
- sexual abuse, when a child is pressured, forced or tricked into taking part in any kind of sexual activity,
- emotional abuse, when a parent or carer behaves in a way that is likely to seriously affect the child’s emotional development. This can include constant rejection; continual, severe criticism and witnessing domestic violence.
The Children Act 1989 lays down the circumstances under which it is appropriate for a child to be taken into care or a supervision order made.
In order to determine whether these criteria are met, a thorough fact-finding exercise must first be carried out.
One common difficulty arises when the proceedings to take a child into care are based on an expectation that the child may be harmed in the future, rather than on the basis of harm having been done to the child in the past. In such cases, the local authority is required to prepare a clear written analysis of the facts on which the authority’s decision to apply to take the child into care is based.
This analysis should be divided into three stages:
- an establishment of the primary facts;
- an assessment as to whether the criteria outlined above are met; and
- an overall assessment of what action is likely to be in the child’s best interests.
The Court Hearing
The judge will look at the reports, and listen to everyone involved in the case, including the child, the parents, solicitors representing parents and children, the council social worker and the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) officer.
If the judge decides that they’re safe, the child will go back home. If not, the council will find them a new home. That may be with other members of their family, friends, a new family or a children's home.
What is a Care Order?
A care order is given by a court. It allows a council to take a child into care. Under The Children Act 1989 a council can apply for a care order if it believes a child is suffering or at risk of suffering significant harm. The court decides if the child can be taken into care.
Care orders last until:
- the child’s 18th birthday
- an order is made giving parental responsibility to another person - e.g. through adoption
- the court lifts the order (this is called ‘discharging’ the order)
A child can be taken into care if they are under 18.
What is CAFCASS?
CAFCASS stands for the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service.
In care proceedings, a Children’s Guardian from Cafcass represents the rights and interests of the child. They spend time getting to know the child and their family before the hearing.
The Children’s Guardian will appoint a solicitor for the child, advise the court about what needs to be done before it can make a decision and write a report for the court saying what would be best for the child – including the child’s wishes and feelings.
The Children’s Guardian spends time with the child and their family before they write their report for the court. They may also talk to other people who know the family, like teachers, social workers and health visitors.
They attend meetings about the child, check records and read the council’s case file. They may also recommend to the court that other independent professionals help the court with advice, e.g. a doctor or a psychologist.
CAFCASS workers are independent - they don’t work for the council or the court.