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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.

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Interim arrangements and plans for children during care proceedings

Starting care proceedings is the process of applying to the Family Court for a care order or supervision order. Children’s services may start care proceedings if they suspect a child has suffered significant harm. Or is likely suffer significant harm.

When children’s services begin care proceedings, they are asking the Family Court to:

  • Consider a plan to keep a child safe and well cared for immediately
  • Make any court orders needed to help put that initial plan in place
  • Decide who the child should spend time with or be in touch with during the proceedings. This includes who the child should see, how often and other such arrangements. This is often referred to as contact arrangements.
  • Decide what further information is needed to help the court make final decisions about the child’s future care
  • Make final decisions, at the end of the proceedings, about who the child should live with and stay in touch with.

During care proceedings the Family Court will need to decide what the right long-term care arrangement for the child is. And whether the court needs to be made any type of order so that plan can be put in place.

But a decision will also need to be made about the best immediate, plan for the child. This includes where they live and who they stay in touch with and see. The short-term plan for the child is often called the interim plan. This just means temporary. It is a plan for the child until the court makes final decisions. Usually at a final hearing.

The questions below explain more about two types of interim orders – interim care orders and interim supervision orders.

These are orders children’s services often ask the court to make. They are very different, and it is important families have information to understand more about each.

Interim care orders

What is an interim care order? Where will a child live if one is made?

An interim care order is a short-term order. When it is in place a child becomes looked after in the care system by children’s services. It is an order that the Family Court can make to allow children’s services to remove a child from their parents’ care.

Where the child lives will depend on the interim care plan for the child that has been approved by the court.

But common arrangements for a child where an interim care order is in place include:

  • Being cared for by a family member – kinship foster care
  • Or place a child with unrelated carers in foster care or a children’s home.

Section 22C of the Children Act 1989 places a legal duty on children’s services to place a looked after child with the following people in priority order. This means children’s services should first see if a child can be safely cared for by their parent(s). If not, they should next look at wider family, friends and other people already connected with the child – kinship care. Only where this is not possible, should children’s services go on to arrange for a child to live in unrelated foster care.

See our:

  • Children in care under court orders page for more information about this and other duties children’s services have when children are in care and
  • Kinship carers page for more information about kinship foster care and other types of kinship care arrangements for children who cannot live with their parents
  • Family group conference: advice for families page for information and advice about how a family group conference can help explore who in the family may be able to care for a child who is unable to live with their parents.

What is the effect of an interim care order?

An interim care order gives parental responsibility to children’s services. Parents and other people who already have parental responsibility for their child do not lose their parental responsibility. But children’s services can limit how they exercise it once an interim care order is in place.

Children’s services must ask the parents for their views and wishes about decision concerning their child. But children’s services will have the final say. This means they can make plans for the child even if the parents do not agree.

For example, children’s services can:

  • Place the child into foster care against the parents’ wishes, if the Family Court has approved an interim care plan saying that is the best place for the child to live during the proceedings
  • Suspend a child’s contact with their parent for up to seven days in an urgent situation
  • Limit the parents’ contact to the child, and this contact may be supervised. But the court should usually have decided this is the best arrangement for the child.

When an interim care order is in place, the child becomes a looked after child. This means children’s services have specific duties to the child to keep them safe and well cared for. They have duties to allow reasonable contact between the child and their parents (and certain others). And a wider duty to promote contact between the child and other important people in their life. A care plan must be drawn up for the child. And an independent reviewing officer must be appointed before the first review of the care plan.

See our Contact with children during care proceedings section questions for more information about this.

When can children’s services apply for an interim care order?

The law sets out when children’s services may make an application to the Family Court for an interim care order to start care proceedings. This is in section 38 of the Children Act 1989.

It says that children’s services may only start care proceedings if they have good reason (‘reasonable grounds’) to believe a child is:

  1. Suffering significant harm, or is likely to suffer significant harm, and
  2. That is because either:
  • The care a parent is giving to the child is not what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to provide (see section 32(1)(b)(i)) or
  • The child is beyond their parents’ control (see section 32(1)(b)(ii)).

Even if children’s services apply for an interim care order, this doesn’t mean the Family Court will make an interim care order.

When can the Family Court make an interim care order?

The court only has the power to make an interim care order if it is satisfied that:

  • children’s services have made clear why they think the child is suffering harm. Or is likely to suffer harm
  • children’s services have provided evidence to the court which shows the child is indeed suffering harm. Or is likely to.

But even then, the Family Court must consider the child’s welfare before deciding whether to make the order. This is because when the Family Court makes any decision relating to a child, the child’s welfare must always be the court’s ‘paramount consideration’. This is known as the welfare principle. Or the paramountcy principle.  It means the court needs to think what is in the child’s best interests when it makes decisions. Including when deciding whether to make an interim care order. See section 1 (1) of the Children Act 1989.

To help work out what is in a child’s best interests, the court must use the ‘welfare checklist’. This is set out at section 1 (3) of the Children Act 1989.

The checklist says that the court take into account:

  • The child’s wishes and feelings (bearing in mind the child’s age and understanding)
  • The child’s needs (physical, emotional and educational)
  • The likely effect on the child of any changes in their circumstances
  • The child’s age, sex and background (and any other relevant characteristics)
  • Any harm the child has suffered (or any risk of harm)
  • The parents’ ability to meet the child’s needs.

All the powers the Family Court has.

What if the plan is to remove a child under an interim care order?

Decisions by the Court of Appeal have explained what is relevant when a court decides whether a child should be removed from their parent(s). Or separated from them.

  • Applications for interim care orders happen at a time when the court does not have full information and evidence about the child’s situation and about the parents care of the child. It is therefore important the decision focusses on what needs to happen interim. And deals only with issues that can’t wait until the final hearing
  • It is important to remember that removing a child from their parent is an interference with their human right for a family life. It is a serious step to take
  • Interfering with the right to family life must only happen if it is necessary AND proportionate. This means that removal needs be the reasonable step to take looking at the situation. And this will mean that
  • Removal should only happen if the child’s safety requires this. Safety includes physical safety. And the child’s psychological and emotional well-being
  • Children’s services must tell the court about all the resources that are available which could be put in place to prevent the need for the child to be separated from their parent(s).

See the cases of Re C (A Child) [2019] EWCA Civ 1998 and (C (A Child : Interim Separation) [2020] EWCA Civ 257).

How long does an interim care order last for?

The interim care order can last until the final hearing. In most situations this is what happens. But it can be made for a shorter period if the judge thinks that is what is best for the child.

The court can make an exclusion requirement alongside the interim care order. This order requires an adult named in the order to leave a place. This could be the child’s home for example, if the court believes this person may be a danger to the child. This power is sometimes used where one parent has been the victim of domestic abuse by the other.

If a child becomes ‘looked after’, what duties do children’s services have to them?

Children’s services departments have a range of legal duties to make sure children looked after in the care system are well cared for. And they have duties to ensure parents and other important family members are consulted about key decisions concerning the child. These duties apply whatever the reason a child has come to be looked after.

So, if a child is looked after in the care system during care proceedings it is important their family know about these duties.

The precise duties will depend on whether the child is looked after under a voluntary arrangement or under a court order.

See our:

Interim supervision orders

What is an interim supervision order? And when can children’s services apply for one?

An interim supervision order places a child under the supervision of children’s services. This means children’s services must be directly involved with the child’s life. They will have a duty to ‘advise, assist and befriend’ the child. If the order is made the child will still have a social worker.

Requirements can be added to an interim supervision. Examples include the child having medical treatment. Or for having to live in certain places for specific periods of time.

Just like with an application for an interim care order, the law sets out when children’s services may make an application for an interim supervision order to start care proceedings. It is the same legal test in section 38 of the Children Act 1989. It says that children’s services may only start care proceedings if they have good reason (‘reasonable grounds’) to believe a child is:

  1. Suffering significant harm, or is likely to suffer significant harm, and
  2. That is because either:
  • The care a parent is giving to the child is not what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to provide (see section 32(1)(b)(i)) or

If children’s services apply for the order, it doesn’t mean the Family Court will make it.

What is the effect of an interim supervision order?

An interim supervision order does not give children’s services parental responsibility for the child. And it cannot be used to remove a child from the care of their parents. Or from someone else who has parental responsibility for the child.

It does not enable children’s services to make key decisions about a child. But the order does allow children’s services to be directly involved with the child’s life. The legal duty on children’s services will be to ‘advise, assist and befriend’ the child. So, they will have a role in supporting the family and seeing how the child is being cared for.

When can the Family Court make an interim supervision order?

The court only has the power to make an interim supervision order if it is satisfied that:

  • children’s services have made clear why they think the child is suffering harm. Or is likely to suffer harm
  • children’s services have provided evidence to the court which shows the child is indeed suffering harm. Or is likely to.

But even then, the Family Court must consider the child’s welfare before deciding whether to make the order. This is because when the Family Court makes any decision relating to a child, the child’s welfare must always be the court’s ‘paramount consideration’. This is known as the welfare principle. Or the paramountcy principle.  It means the court needs to think what is in the child’s best interests when it makes decisions. Including when deciding whether to make an interim care order. See section 1 (1) of the Children Act 1989.

To help work out what is in a child’s best interests, the court must use the ‘welfare checklist’. This is set out at section 1 (3) of the Children Act 1989.

The checklist says that the court take into account:

  • The child’s wishes and feelings (bearing in mind the child’s age and understanding)
  • The child’s needs (physical, emotional and educational)
  • The likely effect on the child of any changes in their circumstances
  • The child’s age, sex and background (and any other relevant characteristics)
  • Any harm the child has suffered (or any risk of harm)
  • The parents’ ability to meet the child’s needs

All the powers the Family Court has.

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