Discharging a Care Order

Discharging a care order can be complex and requires a detailed assessment before considering an application.

Family courts in England often make court orders relating to family law issues which are dependant on the circumstances at the time. However, in life as with everything individual and family circumstances can often change. With change there may be a need to vary or discharge any court orders. Our family lawyers consider below care orders and how key points about discharging a care order.

Article Contents

What is a care order?

A care order is an order which places a child in the care of the local authority. This order is also known as the child being in care. Whilst obtaining a care order the local authority would also acquire the parental responsibility of the child. This will be shared with the other parental responsibility holders. However, what is quite interesting is that the Local authority can exercise their parental responsibility above the other holder where it is necessary to act in the child’s best interests and safeguard the child.

A care order can only be applied by a local authority or an authorised person. At this moment the only authorised person is the NSPCC.  A care order will only be granted where the court is satisfied that a child is suffering from significant harm or is likely to suffer significant harm. Care orders can be either interim or full.

What does a full care order mean?

A full care order means the local authority holds much more responsibility than the child’s parents. The parents as a result lose most of their rights to make decisions for the child whilst in the care of the local authority. Full care order applications are only made by the local authority when they feel the parent may not work with them to ensure the child is properly cared, or where parents have significantly harmed the child or put the child at risk of significant harm.

What is a section 38 care order?

An interim care order under section 38 of the Children Act 1989 allows the court to make an interim care order where it is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for believing that the circumstances within section 31(2) of the Children Act 1989 apply.

What is a section 31 care order?

A section 31 care order places the child in the care of the Local Authority, with parental responsibility being shared between the parents and the Local Authority. A section 31 care order applies where:

  • the child has suffered, or is likely to suffer, significant harm and
  • the harm or likelihood of harm is attributable to the care given to the child, or likely to be given if the Order were not made, not being what would be reasonably expected of a parent;
  • or the child is beyond parental control.

The Court will expect to be informed by the Local Authority of what plans there are for a child and be satisfied that the Care Order is in the child’s best interests.

What is a section 20 care order?

A section 20 care order is where the local authority accommodate a child who does not have somewhere suitable to live. This is often referred to as voluntary care or voluntary accommodation given that the parents must agree to their child being accommodated.

A section 20 care order usually applies when children have no where to live or no one to look after them. Children falling under this care order may be refugees who are in the country or alone or children whose parents are unable to look after them due to illness or other difficulties.

Once the parents agree to a section 20 care order the children will be placed into foster care whilst the local authority makes investigations or court proceedings start. Under this care order the local authority do not share parental responsibility with the parents. The parents are allowed to take the child out of the voluntary accommodation at any time.

What is the difference between an interim care order and a full care order?

An interim care order like the full care order grants the local authority parental responsibility over the child. The difference between an interim care order and a full care order is that that interim care order is made at the first hearing once care proceedings have commenced. Interim care order can last up to 8 weeks. Interim care orders can be reviewed and extended every 4 weeks after that. In contrast the full care order is an order which is made at the conclusion of the case at a final hearing.

What is a final care order?

A final care order is an order which is made to remove the child from the care of the parents. A final care order is only made where the courts are satisfied that a parent or parents cannot safely care for their child.

When a Final Care Order is made the Local Authority share parental responsibility for a child and can make decisions about them. These decisions could include where they live until they attain the age of 18 years. A Care Order can be made with a plan for a child to live in long-term foster care or perhaps with other family members and not necessarily in the care of a local authority.

How long does a care order last?

The answer to this question depends on whether the care order granted is interim or full. If the care order is interim, then it can last up to 8 weeks but may be extended further after reviews. A full care order will last until the child reaches the age of 18. However, a full care order can end earlier if the court discharges the care order, a residence order is made for the child or the child is adopted.

What age does a care order end?

A care order will usually last until the child reaches the age of 18. In some circumstances a care order can end earlier. This will be if the child is adopted, a residence order is made or the court discharges the care order in place.

Can a care order be discharged?

A care order can be discharged. In order to discharge a care order the courts must be satisfied there is a substantial change of circumstances. The changes must be proved by a report. This report needs to be from agencies who have been working with you, a therapist or your GP.  In order to discharge a care order the form C110A will need to be completed and submitted to the family court. An application by parent to discharge care order must satisfy the discharge of care order test. The test is that “The child should remain at home under the care order, unless his safety and welfare requires that he be removed immediately”.

Good reasons for discharging a care order

For an application by parent to discharge care order you will need to satisfy a court that there has been a significant change in your circumstances which warrant your child to be placed in your care.

Quite often where the initial concern of the local authority was drug or alcohol abuse, you will need to prove that you have resolved this issue. A parent who had issues with alcohol or drug abuse will need to show a significant period of abstinence. In most cases over a year of being abstinent. Furthermore, if you can also show you are engaging with alcohol/substance misuse services this could be a food reason to discharge a care order.

Where the local authority’s concerns are your parenting ability, engaging in parenting courses would be beneficial. This would prove to the court that you are willing to engage with professionals and address the issues raised in the proceedings.

Not good reasons for discharging a care order

One of the main reason for an unsuccessful application to discharge a care order is where the parents argue that they want their child to be placed in their care. The courts will make all decisions based on the child’s welfare. A parents wish to simply be reunited with a child is not a good reason.

There must be a significant change in circumstances which is evidence before the courts will consider an application to discharge a care order. The courts will need to ensure that the discharge of care order test is satisfied.

Application by parent to discharge care order without a lawyer

An application by parent to discharge care order can be made. This process can be carried out by the parent without a lawyer. In order to apply for a discharge care order there must be a significant change of circumstances which must be proven by the parent and can satisfy the courts that they have proved the discharge of care order test. The courts will need satisfying that any concerns regarding the child have been adequately addressed by the parent.

In order for parents to apply to discharge a Care Order, there needs to be a lapse of time since the Care Order was made. To discharge a care order the form C110A will need to be completed and submitted to the family court. There is a fee for making this application which the parent will also need to pay in order for the application to be considered.

A parent who is looking to apply to discharge a care order will need to illustrate they have made substantial changes to their life and feel they are now in a position to care for their child again.

The Courts always act in the best interests of the child and not the wishes of the parents. The Local Authority and Independent Reviewing Officer may believe that the child should still remain in care. The parent applying to discharge a care order will need to convince the Family Court that the child’s welfare requires them to be returned back home.

If the Court believes that it would benefit the child more if they were returned home, the Court can discharge the Care Order and, with it, the Local Authority’s parental responsibility. If the application to discharge the care order is unsuccessful, the child will remain subject to the care order and the local authority will retain their parental responsibility.

How long does it take to discharge a care order?

There is no set timeframe in which a care order can be discharged. Each case will depend on its individual circumstances. Quite often if a parent is able to demonstrate a significant change in circumstances and are able to approve they have made changes to their life which warrant a discharge then the process could be less time consuming.

Problems and delays may arise where the local authority remains of the view that the parent is not able to adequately care for the child. In such circumstances there maybe several hearings to consider the new evidence and circumstances. A parent may also be required to provide a statement with their evidence in order to prove their case to the court. There may also be further investigations by the local authority to ensure that a child will be adequately looked after and cared for by a parent.

Importance of getting legal advice before discharging a care order

An application to discharge a care order is not considered lightly by the court. The court must be satisfied that it is in the best interests of a child to be reunited with their parents.it must also be proven that you have satisfied the discharge of care order test. It is therefore important you consider obtaining legal advice before discharging a care order.

Family lawyers will be able advise you from the outset whether your case has a realistic prospect of success and the steps that you would need to take to try and achieve a successful outcome at court. Family specialists will often be in a position to consider your circumstances and evidence to assess whether you are likely to succeed in your application.

Arrange a free consultation today

At Kabir Family Law we will work with you to try and achieve the result you desire, if it is reasonable.

We can also assist you in completing your application to discharge a care order as well as preparing you for the court hearings. We will also be able to assist you in advising on how to best prepare your statement and collate your evidence in a way in which you are likely to achieve your desired outcome.

For more information on child care orders and discharging a care order contact us today on 0330 094 5880 to discuss your options or let us call you back.

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