Interim care orders – What are they?

An ‘interim care order’ (ICO) is an order that can be made by the court before the final hearing, when all the evidence is put before the Judge and a final decision is made about your child’s future. Final hearings often take a while to organise as a lot of evidence has to be gathered – assessments of the parents and other family members will usually be needed so the court has the best information before it to make a decision that’s right for the child.

When Children Act 1989 was written, people thought care proceedings from start to finish would be over in a few months. Therefore, the initial plan was that an ICO would hold the fort for a short period of time until the final hearing could be listed and a final care (or supervision) order made.

But what happened shortly after the Children Act came into force,  was that care proceedings began to take a lot longer than a few months to sort out – the average case was taking a year or even longer to resolve. The government became so concerned about this that they have enacted the Children and Families Act 2014; section 14 provides that care proceedings must finish as soon as possible or take no more than 26 weeks.

There is an interesting article here from the President of the Family Division about the history of the family courts and the efforts that have been made to streamline family proceedings. 

Interim care orders are found at section 38 of the Children Act 1989. Under section 38(2)  the court shall not make an interim care order or interim supervision order under this section ‘unless it is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for believing that the circumstances with respect to the child are as mentioned in section 31(2)’ i.e. that the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering significant harm.


How long can an interim care order last?

Before the Children and Families Act 2014 became law on April 22nd 2014, an initial interim care order could  be made on the first occasion for 8 weeks and then could be renewed every 4 weeks for another 4 week period.  This lead to a lot of orders being renewed ‘administratively’ i.e. the parties agree at the outset they won’t object to any further renewal. This saved the parties from  coming back to court every 4 weeks for another hearing, but still generated a lot of paperwork as fresh interim care orders had to be printed out every 4 weeks.

Had the people who first wrote the Children Act realised how long care proceedings would become, it is doubtful they would have opted for this 4 week period.  The change to the law will mean that a court can make an interim care order or interim supervision order for a time specified in the order.  At the moment, it is too early to say how this is going to operate in practice – will courts simply say the interim care order is to last until the proceedings conclude? Or would it be better to have a fixed time limit?

For more discussion about this issue, see this article by Andrew Pack.

The stages of care proceedings

See Practice Direction 12A of the Family Procedure Rules 2010. The aim of recent government reforms in 2014 is to speed up care proceedings. There are now three stages in the court process;

  • Stage 1 the application is issued by the local authority (LA) and a decision is made about which is the right kind of court – magistrates, or district/circuit judge? This should take 2 days.
  • Stage 2, an Advocates Meeting (meeting with the lawyers, social worker and guardian) no later than day 10 to make sure everyone is ready for the Case Management Hearing (CMH) on day 12.
  • Stage 3 must be no later than 20 weeks from the date of the application and is called the Issues Resolution Hearing (IRH). This should not be just a ‘directions hearing’  but instead a ‘genuine and informed attempt at resolving issues’. The hope is that some cases can be agreed at this hearing.

If you can’t agree the best way forward at the IRH, the court will find some dates for you to come back for the Final Hearing – this is where the court hears evidence from all the parties and makes a final decision.

You may be asked to decide how long you will need for a final hearing at the time of the case management hearing, which is pretty early on In the timetable and it may be impossible by day 12 to know how this case will pan out by day 140. Your lawyer will do his/her best to get a suitable timetable.

The LA must produce a lot of paperwork with its application, including genograms (a family tree) and a chronology .There are likely to be other documents which may not be circulated immediately but you can see them if you ask for them. All the lawyers must come to the Advocates Meeting ready and able to set out precisely what the case needs – for example do you need an expert to report, such as a psychologist or medical expert?  i

Is an interim care order at stage 1 inevitable?

No. A lot can happen at the first hearing. If everyone agrees to work in co-operation with one another the LA are often content not to push for any kind of order but simply timetable the case through to a final hearing. Parents may agree to sign up to a ‘schedule of expectations’ – a list of things they need to do or stop doing in order to keep their child at home. If everyone is happy that the situation can be managed over the coming months without a care order then there is no need for such an order and it shouldn’t be made.

Schedule of expectations/written agreements.

If you do sign any kind of document that sets out in writing what is expected of you before the final hearing, do be careful to read it carefully and only sign if you think that you are going to be able to stick to its terms. If you don’t go on to do what you agreed to do in the document,  this is usually a big source of concern to social workers and the court. So if what is expected of you seems unreasonable or just not possible to achieve, make sure you speak up at the time or tell your lawyer.

Written agreements should not be used to get a care order ‘by the back door’. See the case of Re W [2014] for further discussion of this.

There is also a very helpful blog post by suessipcious minds which offers more advice to parents who are being asked to sign a written agreement. 


Can I argue against an interim care order?

If an interim care order has already been made and you don’t think this is the right order, you are entitled to make that argument before the court.  However, you will need to think about the reasons why you say an ICO should not continue. For example, has there been a real change in your circumstances which might mean the ICO is no longer needed? If what you are saying is that the ICO should never have been made in the first place, the court can list your case for a contested hearing but in some cases it may be better to wait until the final hearing when you have all the information and the court has time to really get to grips with all the issues. The best thing to do is take advice from your lawyer about what realistically you can achieve by arguing against the ICO before the final hearing takes place.

Why do the LA want an ICO?

Only a care order or interim care order allows the LA to share parental responsibility with the parents and in reality it puts them in the ‘driving seat’ when it comes to making decisions about your child. However, an ICO doesn’t mean you lose parental responsibility – the LA must still consult you about decisions it wants to make about your child.

In some cases concerns are serious and there isn’t much trust or co-operation between the parties. In a case like that the LA are very likely to ask for an interim care order and may even ask that the child is removed from home following that order.

If the LA are saying they want an interim care order to remove your children from your care, we deal with it here.

Power to exclude people from the child’s address in an ICO

Under section 38A of the Children Act a court can put an ‘exclusion requirement’ in an ICO. This is defined as

  • making someone leave a house in which he/she lives with a child
  • stop someone entering the house where the child lives
  • keep someone out of a defined area near the house where the child lives

The court can make this ‘exclusion requirement’ if the following conditions are met:

  • there are reasonable grounds to believe that if the person is excluded, the child will stop suffering significant harm or no longer be at risk of suffering significant harm AND
  • there is someone else living with the child who can look after him/her and agrees to the exclusion requirement.

The court can attach a ‘power of arrest’ to the exclusion requirement under section 38A(5) which means the police can arrest anyone believed to be in breach of this requirement, without needing a warrant for their arrest.


11 thoughts on “Interim care orders – What are they?

  1. tina durn

    i am in d process of contesting a care order…my children should never have been removed from my care….their school attendence was the catalist because i was ill n they were staying with their father during my illness n he was not taking them tp school…i was hairstrand tested which came back positive for low to medium levels of cocaine…iv never taken or been under the influence of drugs around my children but the s.s have now deemed me a bad mother even though my kids are high achievers at school n are well.mannered and polite good kids…i dont understand and my kids dont either they have told s.s that i take care of them.well and they want to.come home but no1 is listening to.them or me.

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      I assume you have a lawyer that you can trust and work with? If not, you need one urgently. If you don’t accept the hair strand test results, ask if you can get another test. If that is the only evidence against you as a parent I would be surprised if that could justify the removal of your children. You urgently need to understand exactly what is the case against you and what evidence you can provide to argue against it.

  2. ian josephs

    Most of the parents who contact me after an interim care order has been made on their children say their lawyers told them the could not speak in court. Most also said that their barristers neither agreed with nor opposed the order so that the orders were nearly always made and the were taken away to secret destinations.

  3. Sarah Phillimore Post author

    Really Ian? Really?

    Might it actually have gone a bit more like this?

    ME BARRISTER: the evidence against you is looking pretty strong, if you contest the ICO I don’t think you will succeed and you might risk getting some nasty findings made against you. Let’s not go down that route, lets see what arguments we can make at a final hearing when all the evidence is in, but of course if you want to, we will.


    So we neither agree to nor contest the order but agree a timetable for further assessments and statements etc.

    Children then go off to ‘foster care’ or as you prefer to call it ‘secret destinations’. Yes, usually parents don’t know where the foster carers are as I am afraid some parents might not use that information responsibly. But contact will be arranged between parents and children.

  4. Amandahodgkinson

    Hi my two children were taken into care in June 2015 because of things am to ashamed to say on here cos I fear I will be judged.But have admitted my defaults to s.s and people involed with my children.Am in the process of I.c.o at the moment am looking for ways to prove my self I’ve got a job,painted,cleaned and set up the house.Ive attended every appointment going.Done all the assessments the want me to do.Gone on all different kind of courses such as parent,ADHD,asd as my children have special needs.I wasn’t told to do them just did it myself am just wounding am I missing somethink that I haven’t done yet if I am could someone tell me I would be great ful for any advice all I want to do is prove myself and get my children back Thanx

    1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

      It doesn’t sound like there is much more you could do! What are the LA saying about the work you have done? It is really important that they tell you if they want you do to something else or something different. If they don’t agree that you are making changes they MUST explain why so you can understand where they are coming from. What does your solicitor say? Its really important that you have a good relationship with your lawyer and that you can trust their advice.

      I hope you get a good outcome at the final hearing – it is quite unusual for parents to agree that they have problems they need to fix so I hope you get credit for working so openly and honestly. If the ICO was in June then the Issues Resolution Hearing (IRH) should be in November and the final hearing (if needed) should be before Christmas, so make sure that your final evidence is very clear about everything you have done and the changes you have made.

      But if everything is going well and everyone is agreed, the proceedings can stop at the IRH and they don’t need to go on to final hearing.

      1. Amandahodgkinson

        Thanx for replying back I can’t seem to get hold of my s/w i tex her ring her and leave voicemails but get no reply I keep everyone informed I feel am the only one that communicates with everyone which i dont mind my lawyer can’t understand that there complaining about me doing things wrong but the wont help me or instructe me even tho they been told by a psycologist that I have aspegues and need guideness don’t get me wrong am a great mum been 1 parent for 12 yrs just made mistakes that I take to my grave with me can’t stress that enough to people my lawyer said he Speke to s/w lawyer I got intouch with kids guardian who told me the same my I.r.h is in dec my final hearing is feb but it feels like there something am not doing but can’t seem to put my finger on it at the moment s/w knows that both my kids and me have high anxiouity cos were inseparetable kids have said the want to come home and I say I want them back all the time I’ve even sat in her office for hours only to be told she at meetings don’t get me wrong I know there over stretched and have other family’s but I just get the feeling the don’t want to help me sorry don’t mean to offened anyone but any advice off people would be appercepated Thanx just going out of my mind thinking of what I’ve missed I’ve got an endless list that I have gave to everyone eg s/w,lawyer,l.a.c meeting,ect

        1. Sarah Phillimore Post author

          Ok, take a deep breath. I know it is easy for me to say but please try not to get too worried and stressed.

          I am afraid it is a very common complaint that it is difficult to get hold of SW. I think that is most likely due to the fact that they are massively overworked and have case loads that are far too big for them to manage properly. But that isn’t much comfort for you.

          Make a note of when you try to call, leave voicemails etc so if you need to rely on that later you can.
          If you don’t understand what you need to do, make an appointment to see your solicitor and go through the threshold document again. What are the SW saying is the problem?
          The fact that you are prepared to admit you made mistakes, is very positive. A lot of parents can’t even get to that stage.
          Can your GP help with your anxiety? Medication might help in the short term or you could be referred to some therapy/counselling/CBT.

          It should be clear by December at the IRH the way the case is going. You just need to grit your teeth and try to get through the next few months. Be kind to yourself, get whatever help and support you can.

          1. Amandahodgkinson

            Thanx for your advice i understand that s/w is over streached I have kept notes of times I’ve rang ,left voicemails ,ect I have kept notes of everythink since June I have 3 books full my lawyer has gone over the threshold a couple of times with me to put it simple so am not judged the s/w said I failed to protect my kids although this is all historic cos it happened afew years ago it got bought up this year cos of somethink that were said I did admit to s/w ,police,lawyer,kids guardian,g.p.and others that are involed I admited my mistakes in June my g.p put me on medication for depression but it’s hard to get the correct medication to suit as its limited cos of my epilepsy medication I go to c.b.t I’ve been going for the past month

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.