What are Care Proceedings?  

There are three main orders that Social Services (children’s social care), also known as the Local Authority, can apply for under the Children Act 1989, in the event of any  concerns about your child/ren:  


The above are also known and referred to as Public law proceedings.  



This is an emergency order used by the social services in urgent cases. The order lasts for only 8 days, although it can be extended for a further period, not exceeding 7 days. A time extension may only be obtained once and the order cannot be challenged within 72 hours of being made.  

To obtain this order, the Local Authority must prove to the court: That there is reasonable cause to believe that the relevant child is likely to suffer significant harm if he or she is either (i) not removed to accommodation provided by the Local Authority or (ii) is not retained in accommodation already provided. This second limb would thus prevent removal of the child if he or she were already accommodated.  

These orders are often obtained without notice being given to you. If the Local Authority believes that there will be concerns on the expiry of the EPO, they are likely to apply for an Interim Care Order. 



To be successful in obtaining either an Interim Care Order or an Interim Supervision Order, the Local Authority must prove that the child/ren (if more than one they must be looked at individually): is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm AND that the likelihood of harm is attributable to the care given, or likely to be given if an order were not made, not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give. This test is known as “THE THRESHOLD CRITERIA”. 

If the Court is satisfied that the Threshold test is met, the Court must go on to consider what, if any, Order should be made and in doing so will apply the Welfare Checklist (Children Act 1989 section 1(3)) as set out below:  

  1. The ascertainable wishes of the child/ren concerned (considering the child/ren’s age and understanding) 
  2. The child’s physical emotional and educational needs 
  3. The effect on the child of any change in circumstances 
  4. The child’s age, sex, background, and any characteristics the court considers to be relevant 
  5. Any harm the child is suffering or at risk of suffering 
  6. How capable the parents (and any other person the court considers relevant) is of meeting the child’s needs 
  7. The range of powers available to the court. 

The Court will then consider section 1(1) Children Act 1989 which states that the interests of the child are paramount. Thereafter, the Court will consider the Local Authority proposals as to where the child/ren should live  (in foster care or with family members or remain at home in the care of parent/s) and the contact arrangements (if the children are to be removed from parents care), as set out in the care plan. 



At the initial hearing, the Court will need to consider if an Interim Care and/or Supervision Order is required. An Interim Order is a temporary Order that will last until the Court decides what final Order to make. To obtain an Interim Care or Supervision Order the Court must be satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for believing that the interim threshold criteria are established.  

The making of an Interim Care or Supervision Order gives the Local Authority no strategic advantage in respect of the future outcome of proceedings. An Interim Care Order gives the Local Authority Parental Responsibility for child/ren on an interim basis. Other parties, usually parents, with Parental Responsibility, will retain their Parental responsibility.  



Child in Need: If the Local Authority have concerns regarding your child/ren they may initially deal with their concerns by way of the “child in need” process, which will involve an assessment of the child/ren’s needs, your parenting ability, and what services and support are necessary.  

Child Protection Plan: If the Local Authority believe that a child/ren is at risk of significant harm, the Plan will set out the specific risk, which may be neglect, sexual, educational, and set out the actions that are needed to keep the child/ren safe.  The Child Protection Plan will be reviewed and updated at a series of Child Protection Meetings, which other professionals such as the child’s school, GP, and Health Visitor will attend.  If good progress is made, the Child Protection Plan may come to an end.  If progress is not made, the matter may escalate to Pre-proceedings or Court proceedings.    

Pre-proceedings: If the Local Authority continue to have concerns, the matter may escalate to a process known as Pre-proceedings and sometimes called PLO. If Pre-proceedings are commenced, you will receive a letter explaining the Local Authority concerns and you will be invited to obtain legal advice and attend a pre-proceeding meeting with your solicitor.  

Court proceedings: If the pre-proceedings process is unsuccessful or in the event of the social services having urgent and serious concerns, they may apply to the court for an Emergency Protection Order, Care Order, or Supervision Order. 

Legal Aid is available for parents or anyone with parental responsibility for a child who is subject to the above applications. It is important that you speak to a solicitor as soon as possible. You do not need to worry about the cost as the Legal Aid Agency will fund your legal advice. 


  1. The Application 

The Local Authority will make an application to the court supported by a social worker statement setting out the history of the matter and their proposals for the child/ren. The parents and anyone with parental responsibility will receive this application.  

  1. Issue of proceedings and the First Court Appointment 

On receipt of the application form, the court will consider how the case should progress, appoint a CAFCASS Guardian for the child/ren (explained below) and fix the First Appointment. This is a hearing when the court will set a “Timetable for the Child”, consider the Local Authority’s care plan, and decide how the case should proceed. In advance of the First Hearing, the parents will need to prepare a statement in reply and set out their respective proposals for the child/ren. A Child/ren’s Guardian will prepare an initial analysis setting out what s/he feels is best for the child/ren. It is likely that the Guardian will contact you to discuss the matter with you in advance of preparing her/his analysis. provide a matter will be listed for a First Appointment Hearing. Public law proceedings must conclude with 26 weeks, exceptions to this rule will be become more and more difficult to justify, so you must not delay in seeking legal advice and representation from a solicitor.  

  1. Case Management Hearing 

At this hearing, the Court will give directions as to the future conduct of the proceedings, detailing what assessments, reports, statements and other information may be required. The court will fix further hearings, which may include a further Case Management Hearing and thereafter an Issues Resolution Hearing.  

  1. Issues Resolution Hearing 

At this hearing, the Court will decide what issues remain outstanding and what issues are resolved, check that all earlier directions and the timetable are being complied with, and consider the care plan. If all parties agree, it is likely that a final Order will be made and the proceedings concluded. If there is no full agreement, the matter may be listed for a Settlement Conference and/or timetabled through to a final hearing.  

  1. Neutral Evaluation Hearings (formerly Settlement Conferences) 

This is an informal hearing where a Judge will speak directly to all the parties, sometimes together and sometimes individually, to resolve matters or narrow the issues. All parties must agree to this hearing as if any party objects to a Neutral Evaluation Hearing, it cannot proceed. Sometimes this means everyone is in Court or potentially only one party. If a final hearing is required, the Judge that conducts the Neutral Evaluation Hearing will not be able to deal with your case at final hearing.  

  1. Final Hearing 

The court will hear evidence from all parties and /or make decisions as to the future care of the child/ren, whether a full Care or Supervision Order, Special Guardianship Order, Child Arrangement Order, or no Order should be made. When making an order the court must decide where and with whom the child/ren should live, for example, foster care or adoption and the level of parental and sibling contact.  


Directions and Timetable  

The Court will normally set out a directions timetable, which indicates what steps need to be taken, by who and by what date. This will include statements by you, Local Authority statements, assessments, Care Plans, the Children’s Guardian’s report, and any other expert reports that are considered relevant e.g. Psychologist, drugs report etc.  

The proceedings should be concluded within 26 weeks of the first Court Hearing, although if several reports from experts are needed or if the case is particularly complex, a time extension may be granted. Such extensions are usually in 8 week blocks.  


The Child/ren’s Guardian  

The court will appoint a CAFACSS Children’s Guardian to look after the child/ren’s interests. The Children’s Guardian is a social work trained individual who is wholly independent of any other person or organisation within the proceedings. The Children’s Guardian appoints a solicitor for the children who will normally receive instructions from the Children’s Guardian. The Children’s Guardian reports to the court and makes recommendations as to what s/he thinks upon investigating the issues, will be the best outcome for the child/ren.  


Effect and duration of a final Care and/or Supervision Order  

  • A full Care Order, if made, gives the Local Authority Parental Responsibility (see below) for your child/ren. The Local Authority share Parental Responsibility with those who already have it. A Care Order will last until the child/ren are 18 years of age or until discharge. Under a Care Order, the Local Authority are under a statutory duty to hold regular ‘Looked After Children Meetings’. The first will be within three months of the final Order and thereafter every six months. You will be invited to attend these meetings, alongside the social worker and other professionals working with the child/ren. The meetings will be chaired by an independent Review Officer. You should receive written minutes after each meeting and it is important to keep these minutes in a safe place. If you have any issues regarding contact or the child/ren’s placement, education, health etc, you should raise these within these meetings and with the child/ren’s social worker. If the issues remain unresolved, you should seek legal advice.  
  • A Supervision Order provides a duty on the Local Authority to assist, support, and befriend the child/ren and other named persons, such as parents, and to provide help and support as set out within the Supervision Support Plan  approved by the Court. A Supervision Order does not confer parental responsibility on the Local Authority and may last for any period of up to three years, although usually it will last for 6 to 12 months. At the end of this period, it will automatically come to an end, unless the Local Authority make an application back to the Court to extend it. The Local Authority will undertake regular statutory visits and arrange regular meetings when a Supervision Order is in place. A Supervision Order is seen as less serious than a Care Order.  
  • Other Orders the Court may make, such as, Special Guardianship Order, Child Arrangement Order or the Court may make no Order at all. Separate information sheets are available in relation to these other Orders.  



Parental Responsibility is defined by section 3(1) Children Act 1989 as “the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to a child” and it is by this that the law recognises a person as the child’s parent.  

If the parents were married at the time of the child’s birth, (or subsequently married) both parents have Parental Responsibility.  

If the parents were not married (nor subsequently married) Parental Responsibility is held solely by the mother unless the child was born after 01 December 2003 and the father signed the birth certificate when he will also have Parental Responsibility.  

A father without Parental Responsibility may acquire Parental Responsibility (other than by marriage to the mother) by entering into a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the mother or application to the court for a Parental Responsibility Order.  

If you do not have Parental Responsibility, you will not be an automatic respondent to the Local Authority’s application for a Care or Supervision Order.  This means that initially you will only receive Notice of the proceedings and Court Hearing but not the full court papers. You will be able to apply to be joined in as a party to the proceedings and if this is successful, you will then receive all of the court papers.   

For more information, contact Nicola Harris from our Family team at nicolaharris@msbsolicitors.co.uk.