Child protection measures
Child protection register
In Northern Ireland the child protection register (CPR) is a confidential list of all children in the local area who have been identified as being at risk of significant harm. It allows authorised individuals to check if a child they are working with is known to be at risk.
If a child is added to the CPR they must also have a child protection plan, which sets out what action needs to be taken by whom and when, in order to safeguard the child and promote their welfare.
Depending on the outcome of the child protection conference, it may be necessary to take the child into care to help keep them safe.
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 into care voluntarily through Article 21 of The Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995.
The Health and Social Care Trust (HSCT) Gateway Service 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 Article 22 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 proceedings Court and more complex cases may be held in Family Care Centres or the High Court.
The court will make sure the child has a guardian ad litem (appointed to them). The guardian's job is to look after the child's interests. If the child is mature enough they are allowed to 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 information about Gillick competency and Fraser guidelines
If the courts agree that it's necessary, they may make an order giving the local HSCT parental responsibility for a child.
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, and must be renewed every four weeks, allowing for investigation and further plans to be made. The HSCT will produce a care plan.
In some cases the child may continue living at home with the parents under specified conditions. However, if the conditions aren't met then the HSCT is able to intervene without having to obtain a separate care order.
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 their birth family, while placements offer options for fostering or adoption.
Full care order
The court will only make a full care order if they are convinced that:
- the child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm
- 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.
This allows a child to be placed with prospective adopters prior to an adoption order, should the local authority believe this is the best option for the child.
This transfers parental responsibility to the adoptive parents. Courts only make adoption orders following extensive enquiries, based on the best interest of the child.
At the point of adoption the care order ends and the adoptive parents gain sole parental responsibility.
Unless an adoption order is made or the child returns home, care orders last until the child turns 18. HSCTs have a duty to continue to promote the welfare of care-leavers until the age of 21.