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Our advice service

We provide advice to parents, grandparents, relatives, friends and kinship carers who are involved with children’s services in England or need their help. We can help you understand processes and options when social workers or courts are making decisions about your child’s welfare.

Our advice service is free, independent and confidential.

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By phone or email

To speak to an adviser, please call our free and confidential advice line 0808 801 0366 (Monday to Friday 9.30am to 3pm, excluding Bank Holidays). For Textphone dial 18001 followed by the advice line number. Or you can ask us a question via email using our advice enquiry form.

Discuss on our forums

Our online advice forums are an anonymous space where parents and kinship carers (also known as family and friends carers) can get legal and practical advice, build a support network and learn from other people’s experiences.

Advice on our website

Our get help and advice section describes the processes that you and your family are likely to go through, so that you know what to expect. Our webchat service can help you find the information and advice on our website which will help you understand the law and your rights.

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How can a care order be brought to an end?

A care order lasts until the child turns 18, unless it is discharged before then. Discharged just means ended.

Reviews and looked after children

There must be regular reviews of the cases of children who are looked after under care orders (see section 26 of the Children Act 1989). These are called looked after reviews. See our Children in care under court orders page for more detailed information about these reviews and what is involved.

The law says looked after child review meeting should look at whether the child’s care plan for the child continues to be the best plan for them. And whether children’s services should apply to discharge (end) the care order. This is set out in schedule 2, paragraph 1 of government regulations called Review of Children’s Cases Regulations 1991.

Discharging a care order

The law about discharging (ending) care orders is in section 39 of the Children Act 1989. It says that an application to discharge a care order can be made by:

  • Children’s services
  • The child themselves
  • Anyone with parental responsibility for the child. Remember, a parent or person with parental responsibility does not lose this when a care order is made, but their ability to exercise it is limited).

If a parent wants to apply to discharge the care order, they will have to show real change in circumstances since the order was made.

If an application has already been made to discharge a care order in the last six month then the court’s permission is needed before applying again (see section 91(15) of the Children Act 1989).

A placement order may have been made alongside a care order. This is done when children’s services’ plan for the child is adoption. It is an order that allows children’s services to place a child with prospective adopters. For information about challenging placement orders see our page on adoption, and our advice sheet 3b) Adoption: challenging placement orders.

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