care order

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A court order placing a child under the care of a local authority. Under the Children Act 1989 an application for a care order can only be made by a local authority, the NSPCC, or a person authorized by the Secretary of State. The court has the power to make a care order only when it is satisfied that a child is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm either caused by the care (or lack of care) given to it by its parents, or because the child is beyond parental control (the so-called threshold criteria). The phrase “significant harm”, as defined in the Children Act, means ill treatment (including sexual abuse and forms of treatment that are not physical) or the impairment of health (either physical or mental) or development (whether physical, intellectual, emotional, social, or behavioural). Once the court is satisfied that the threshold criteria have been satisfied, it must decide whether a care order would be in the best interests of the child. In so doing, it should scrutinize the care plan drawn up in respect of the child. The court may, instead of making a care order, make a supervision order or a section 8 order. Since the coming into force of the Human Rights Act 1998, the court must ensure that the granting of a care order will not be in breach of Article 8 (which guarantees a right to family life); the court must be satisfied that any intervention by the state between parents and children is proportionate to the legitimate aim of protecting family life. A care order gives the local authority parental responsibility for the child who is the subject of the order. Although parents retain their parental responsibility, in practice all major decisions relating to the child are made by the local authority. While the child is in care, the local authority cannot change the child's religion or surname or consent to an adoption order or appoint a guardian. There is a presumption that parents will have reasonable contact with their children while in care; if the local authority wishes to prevent this, it must apply for a court order to limit such contact. A parent with parental responsibility, the child itself, or the local authority may apply to discharge a care order. No care order can be made with respect to a child who is over the age of 16. Before the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 came into force a care order could only be made if the threshold criteria were met. Now, however, the family proceedings court has the power to make a care order if a child is in breach of a child safety order. It is important to distinguish between a child who is the subject of a care order and one who is being provided with voluntary accommodation by a local authority.

Subjects: Law.

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