24 May, 2021
Under section 31(1)(b) of the Children Act 1989 'on an application of any local authority or authorised person, the court may make an order putting the child under the supervision of a designated local authority' and this is known as a supervision order. A Court may make a supervision order if it is satisfied that the child concerned is suffering or is likely to suffer, significant harm that is attributable to the care given to the child, or likely to be given to him if the order were not made, is not what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give to him; or, the child is beyond parental control. A supervision order may not be made where the child concerned has reached the age of seventeen (or sixteen, in the care of a child who is married).
A supervision order does not give Parental Responsibility to the local authority, and the child cannot be removed by the local authority from the child's parents or other person with Parental Responsibility at the time that the application was issued. Paragraph 6(1), Schedule 3, Children Act 1989 provides for a supervision order to cease after one year from the date it was made unless the Court specifies a shorter duration. Meanwhile, Paragraph 6(3) and (4), Schedule 3, Children Act 1989 provides for the Court to be able to extend the order for a period of up to three years beginning with the date on which the order was made. While a supervision order is in force, it is the duty of the local authority to advise, assist and before the child, and to take such steps as are necessary to give effect to the order pursuant to section 35 Children Act 1989.
From the 15 February 2021 to the 8 March 2021, the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory (NFJO) undertook a consultation and asked parents and legal and children's social care professionals' questions about supervision orders. Two hundred and ninety-one legal and children's social care professionals and ten parents took part in the survey. The outcome supported the sub-group of the President of the Family Division's Public Law Working Group's recommendation, that the Government needs to review supervision orders with the aim of providing a 'more robust and effective form of a public law order' (para 228 of the report). The response was that the majority (90%) of professionals thought that supervision orders should continue as an option in care proceedings, but they did not believe that they are effective.
The reasons for retaining supervision orders include the need for a proportionate order between a care order and no order when children are returning home at the end of proceedings in which the threshold for a care or supervision order had been established; to encourage the local authority to provide support; to keep the local authority involved with the child and family; to support children and parents where the situation had improved but where ongoing help is necessary; to supervise contact; to encourage engagement between the local authority and parents; for situations where children were older and did not want a care order and, for situations where there is a risk that the return home might not be successful.
The report continues to state the different opinions of how useful supervision orders are in the current society and whether they contribute much beyond a Child in Need plan. There was a clear demand for 'specific, mandatory obligations… clearly set out for parents and the Local Authority, with clear consequences if these were not met over the duration of the order' (p36). Other suggestions included more funding for the implementation of the support plan, clear, written plans by the local authorities setting out measurable goals and obligations for both parents which are specific to each case; an agreed process for reviewing the progress of the support plans; and more flexibility in the timescales that supervision orders can be made for. The main concern was one that the support identified under the supervision orders was not always provided and consequently cases were returning to the Court.
Lisa Harker, director of Nuffield FJO, stated:
"The Nuffield Family Justice Observatory is committed to holding up a mirror to practice in the family justice system. For some time, questions have been raised about the effectiveness and value of supervision orders. Respondents to this survey highlighted many of the problems. However, there was also strong support for retaining supervision orders if these problems can be addressed."
Gill Carr, Partner, Family "All of our family practitioners are up to date with the recommendations to achieve best practice in child protection and family justice systems published by the Public Law Working Group. This applies to both regional and local levels in order to assist all clients from different geographical locations."