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What is a care order?

Care orders and joining a foster family

Before a foster family can welcome a vulnerable child or young person (anyone under 18-years-old) into their lives, several processes will have taken place to ensure that the foster home is the best place for that individual at that point in time.

The Children Act 1989 covers duties and services that ensure the welfare and safeguarding of all children in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. These duties and services lie with birth parents, Local Authorities, the courts and other agencies across the United Kingdom.

Each country has slightly different procedures governing children and young people in the care system, but in all cases, a care order is used under the Children Act 1989 when the child is judged to be:

  • At risk of or suffering significant harm
  • Beyond parental control

If the child is thought to be in immediate danger, the courts can issue an emergency protection order (EPO). An EPO lasts up to 8 days and gives the Local Authority (LA) the chance to assess the child's mental and physical condition and contact arrangements with the birth family. It also presents the opportunity to apply for a care order.

It is crucial to recognise that leaving the birth family is always the last resort for any child. However, social services will have worked extensively with the birth family to support them in keeping the family unit together, including the possibility of 'kinship care'.

Kinship care is when an extended family member or another person closely involved with the child's welfare, e.g. a family friend or teacher, can take on the child's care.

If kinship care is not an option and the child is still at risk, a care order is secured so they can be moved to a safer place.


Once a care order has been issued - what happens next?

The issuing of a care order is often a result of complex circumstances governing the care of a child.

  • Special needs
  • Debilitating illness
  • Incarceration

These are all factors that might lead to a child facing neglect in the family home. In addition, violence, emotional abuse and problems with drugs or alcohol may also play a part.

Once a care order is issued, the child's parental responsibility is given to the Local Authority. It is shared with the birth parent(s), but final decisions about the child's safety and wellbeing lie with the LA until the care order ends.

Working in partnership with the birth family and social services, the Local Authority will draw up a care plan for the child and determine what foster care is most appropriate. For example, the child might be placed with an approved foster carer associated with the LA, or the services of an Independent Foster Agency (IFA) like Family Fostering Partners, might be required.

A care order can be brought to an end by the courts. Alternatively, it legally ends when the child reaches 18 years old and can live independently.

At all times, the Local Authority has the child's best interests at heart.


Fostering with Family Fostering Partners

Across Wales and into Mid-West England, the network of foster parents registered with Family Fostering Partners prides itself on its dedication to creating brighter futures for the vulnerable young people in their care.

We invest time, support and guidance in our foster parents, so they can do the same for the children who need them most.

Could you foster? Read more here, or get in touch with us using the links at the bottom of the page.

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