Care Proceedings and the Different Types of Child Court Orders

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Patricia Cannon

Head of Family and Childcare

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What are Care Proceedings?

There are several different types of Court Orders relating to children which social workers can request, each with their own specific criteria, effects and time scales.

Our Care Proceedings Solicitors have outlined the different types of proceedings a social worker may consider for your family.

The Local Authority may start Care Proceedings when social workers have a serious concern in relation to the care and safety of your children. This may be because they are concerned that your child has been neglected or physically, sexually or emotionally harmed or because the social worker believes they might be at risk of harm or at risk of neglect.


Child crying


Social workers in your area may apply to the Court if their concerns are serious enough. Only a Court may approve the removal of a child from parents or carers. However, it is also permitted for the police to remove a child and place them in suitable alternative accommodation for up to 72 hours if they believe the child would otherwise suffer significant harm.

Social workers may sometimes ask you to agree to your child being looked after by a foster carer or relative. You may be asked to sign an agreement to Section 20 accommodation. This can sometimes be a good temporary measure, but you should always take legal advice before agreeing to this and your consent must always be freely given.

There are times when children’s social workers are involved with a family for a long period of time before they consider Court proceedings, which should always be a last resort. However, social workers may go to Court immediately if they are very concerned for a child’s safety.

The Different Types of Court Orders

When any court order or decision about a child’s upbringing is considered by the Courts, the principle of 'what is in the child’s best interest and the welfare of the child’ is of paramount importance. The best decision needs to be made for the child, because these decisions will have a massive impact on the child’s life.

These decisions are so important that they often can’t be agreed upon without additional legal help, like getting a court order or decision. 

There are several different types of orders that the Courts could make.

The Court has to make the least intrusive order which will keep the child safe. Sadly, this can sometimes mean that the Court decides the child should not return home if the concerns are very serious.

Care Order

Under a care order the Local Authority shares parental responsibility for the child with the child’s parents. In these situations, the Local Authority are given the power to decide where the child should live. In addition, a Care Order means that the Local Authority will take part in making the big decisions affecting this child’s life.

The Court will consider the plan for where the child shall live and with whom. If the order is made the social workers will have permission to make future decisions for the child, although parents should always be kept informed of those decisions. A final Care Order may last until the child is aged 18, but may be ended by the Court if they order to do so before the child reaches 18.

Supervision Order

Under a supervision order a child can remain in the care of their parents. However, they will be under the supervision of the relevant local authority. The local authority has a duty to advise, assist and befriend' the family.  This means a social worker will visit the family regularly, offer support and resources and may require the parents to do various things to improve their parenting.

This enables the child to remain at home in an environment they’re used to, whilst being monitored to make sure that their home is a safe place for them to be.

A supervision order does not give parental responsibility to the local authority. Therefore, the local authority would have to return the matter to court and seek a further order to remove the child from their parent’s care, if they feel this is necessary

A Supervision Order may last for up to a year, but the Local Authority can also apply back to the Court to extend it for up to three years.

Emergency Protection Order

Any person may apply for such an Order, but applications are normally made by the local authority.  These Court Orders are usually applied for when the social worker believes the child is at immediate risk of harm and needs to be removed to a place of safety. 

Emergency Protection Orders enables a child to be removed from their home or prevents them from being removed from where they currently are such as hospital. These orders are used to provide immediate protection for a child for a short period.

These orders last for 8 days but they can be extended for a further 7 days to a maximum of 15 days. They are normally followed by an application for a Care Order.

Placement Order

This gives the Local Authority permission to place a child for adoption with authorised prospective adopters.   

The court won’t order a placement order unless a care order has been ordered for the child. The local authority may consider applying for a placement order when it has not been possible to find a suitable family member or acquaintance to look after the child in the long-term.

The courts will consider making a placement order if there is no other safe alternative placement for a child and in order to protect the child's safety and welfare.

These Orders are all about keeping children safe, and sometimes, this means placing them with another family.

Adoption Order

This Court Order completely removes parental responsibility for the child and/or children. The adopters become the child’s legal parents. Parents must be informed about court proceedings for adoption.

The birth parents will need to obtain permission from a Judge to oppose the adoption order. The court will need to consider whether the birth parent has made sufficient changes since the placement order was made to prevent the adoption order being made.

It is important parents have this opportunity as an adoption order severs the legal ties between a birth parent and the child. Adoption is an extreme step and must be carefully considered.

Discharge of a Care Order

Anyone with parental responsibility for the child, the local authority or the child themselves can apply to discharge a care order.

The court will consider if there has been a significant change in circumstances since the care order was made and whether it is in the child’s best interest to discharge the care order.

It is important parents have a clear understanding of the local authority’s concerns and recommendations so that they can take the necessary steps to address these concerns and transition to a point where they can be reunited with their child.

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What Should I do if I Receive an Application for a Child Court Order?

Social workers’ involvement with your family can be stressful and often confusing. It's important to seek out legal assistance to get the support and advice needed to fully understand the decisions being made and what you can try to do to show you are able to keep your children safe at home.

If your child’s social worker is considering applying to court, you may receive a letter inviting you to a PLO meeting to discuss any concerns the social worker may have. You are entitled to proper legal representation at the meeting, paid by legal aid, and it is important that you take a representative with you to the discussions.


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If you receive notification that court proceedings are to start you should seek urgent legal advice to assist you throughout the Court process.

Legal Aid is available free of charge for parents if the Local Authority has applied for a Care Order or a Supervision Order.

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UK Government. (1989). Children Act 1989, Part IV, Supervision Orders. Retrieved from

UK Government. (2002). Adoption and Children Act 2002, Section 21. Retrieved from

Norfolk County Council. (n.d.). Procedures Online: Place with Parents. Retrieved from