Child protection measures
Child protection plan
A child protection plan sets out what action needs to be taken, by when and by whom (including family members), to keep the child safe from harm and to promote their welfare.
The plan will be reviewed at regular child protection conferences until the child is no longer considered at risk of significant harm or until they are taken into care.
In some cases, professionals may conclude that the parents or carers are not able to provide safe or appropriate care for their child and the local authority will decide to take the child into care.
Unless the level of risk requires the courts to get involved immediately, care proceedings will only start after extensive efforts to keep the child with their family.
If the child is still at risk following these efforts then the parents will be invited to a pre-proceedings meeting as a final attempt to avoid going to court.
> Find out more about children in care
A child may be taken in to care voluntarily through Section 20 of the Children Act 1989.
A local authority must provide accommodation for children who do not have anywhere suitable to live. This includes children who have nobody to look after them or whose parents are unable to look after them for a period of time, due to illness or other problems.
Under Section 20 a parent retains all their legal rights and can require the child’s return at any stage.
Going to court
Care proceedings are usually held in the Family Court although more complex cases may be held in the High Court.
The court will make sure the child has a children's guardian. The guardian's job is to look after the child's interests. If the child is mature enough they can appoint their own solicitor to represent their wishes.
The child's social worker will make a care plan to help the court decide how the child should be cared for.
> Read our factsheet on Gillick competency and Fraser guidelines
If the courts agree that it's necessary, they can make an order giving the local authority parental responsibility for a child. There are four types of care order.
Interim care order
At the initial hearing the court may decide that an interim care order is needed to set out what should happen to the child during proceedings.
This is awarded for eight weeks initially. The social worker and an officer from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) among others will try to understand why the child might be at risk and what can be done to keep them safe.
The social worker and Cafcass officer will then produce reports on what they think should happen to the child, after consulting with the parents, child and family and friends.
This will include whether they think the child should be taken into care or stay with the family.
The judge will decide how long the interim care order will last and how often it will be reviewed.
While the interim care order is in place, professionals can work together with the family to see if the child can return home. Other options that may be explored are rehabilitation and placement.
Rehabilitation aims to return the child to the birth family, while placements offer options for fostering or adoption.
The court will only make a full care order if they are convinced:
- the child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm
- making an order would be better for the child than making no order
and that the level of harm is due to either:
- the care the child is receiving or likely to receive if the care order isn't made; or
- the child is beyond parental control.
A care order gives the local authority shared parental responsibility with the parents, but the local authority has the power to decide how much involvement a parent should have with their child.
- Placement order. This allows a child to be placed with prospective adopters prior to an adoption order, if the local authority believes this is the best option for the child.
- Adoption order. This transfers parental responsibility to the adoptive parents. It's made by a court following extensive enquiries, based on the best interests of the child.
At the point of the adoption the care order ends and the adoptive parents take over sole parental responsibility.
Unless an adoption order is made or the child returns home, care orders last until the child turns 18. Local authorities have a duty to continue to promote the welfare of care-leavers until the age of 21, or 25 if the young person wants to.