Tag Archives: interim care orders

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 in order to inform the court what is the best decision to make for any individual child.

Those who drafted the Children Act 1989 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 balloon out of all recognition to the original plan and 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?

Prior to the Children and Families Act 2014 coming into force on April 22nd 2014, an initial interim care order could  be made on the first occasion for 8 weeks but thereafter for only 4 weeks on each renewal. 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 28 days.

Had the original drafters of 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 allocated to the appropriate court. This takes 2 days.
  • Stage 2, an Advocates Meeting (meeting with the lawyers, social worker and guardian) no later than day 10 to accommodate 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 is no longer 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 numerous documents with its application, including genograms and a chronology, and there will be further documents not necessary disclosed but which can be requested. All must come to the Advocates Meeting ready and able to set out precisely what the case needs in terms of any further expert analysis, to have identified the necessary experts and found out how long they would take and how much they would cost.

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.

 

Interim Removal – what does this mean and how does it happen?

In this post we shall look at the ways the law may permit the removal of a child from his parents before all the relevant evidence has been gathered together to be put before a Judge at a court hearing,

A child can lawfully be removed without your consent before the final court hearing by either the police or a court order. If you do not consent, any other attempt to remove your child is unlawful and should be challenged. Lawful removal of children takes place in these ways:

  • By the Police under section 46 of the Children Act 1989;
  • Court orders:
    • Emergency Protection Order (EPO) under section 44 of the Children Act 1989; or
    • Interim Care Order (ICO) under section 38 of the Children Act 1989.

The issue of removal before a final hearing is one of the most difficult and controversial issues in care proceedings. We shall look at Interim Care Orders and Emergency Protection Orders in more detail here; the police have only limited powers to remove for up to 72 hours.

 

When is it right to remove a child on a ‘interim basis’ i.e. before all the evidence has been heard and considered by the Judge at a Final Hearing?

These cases are often very finely balanced – if a child is taken from home and goes into foster care for a few months and then is returned home, this obviously has the potential to cause the child (and the parents) a lot of emotional upset. However, if a child isn’t removed from home when he should have been, the child could be left in a dangerous situation for a number of months before a final hearing can be listed.

So this issue has generated a lot of discussion and case law, particularly as Local Authorities reacted to the tragic death of Peter Connelly  in 2007 and were keen to intervene to prevent another child dying or being seriously injured.

The court’s response to the feared harm to the child MUST be proportionate, to avoid an unlawful breach of the parents’ and child’s Article 8 rights to a family life.  See our post about Article 8 and proportionality.

 

Removal under an ICO

First stage

The first and important thing to be very clear about – the court CANNOT agree with a LA’s plan to remove  a child from home before the final hearing under an ICO, unless it determines an interim care order is lawful in the first place.  Interim care orders come under section 38 of the Children Act 1989. The court must have ‘reasonable grounds’ to believe that section 31(2) is satisfied i.e. that the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering significant harm.

We have examined the concept of ‘significant harm’ in more detail in another post.

Second stage

If the court does find it has the legal justification for making an care order, it then goes on to the second stage; is removing the child the right thing to do now?

This issue has generated a lot of case law. The case of Re GR in 2010 pulled together what the case law was saying about when interim removal was appropriate.  Another useful case is the Court of Appeal’s decision in K (Children) in September 2014.

We can summarise:

  • separating a child from his parents at this stage in the proceedings is a very serious matter and must only be contemplated if the child’s safety demands immediate separation;
  • ‘safety’ encompasses a wide range of issues, including physical and emotional; and
  • these safety issues must be identified with clarity so the evidence relating to those issues can be properly analysed (see K (Children) para 34, 36);
  • removing the child from his parents  must be proportionate to the risk of harm to which he will be exposed to if he goes home;
  • Whether or not a decision is proportionate is decided by cross checking what other options are available; is a ‘more proportionate’ option than separation available? (see K (Children) para 37);
  • the court must be wary of being taken over by the perceived ‘urgency’ of a situation at the expense of taking the necessary time to make sure the relevant issues are identified (see K (Children) para 30).
  • that the decision taken by the court on an interim care order application must be limited to issues that cannot wait for until the Final Hearing; the court must NOT attempt to resolve issues which are going to be argued at the Final Hearing.

The reason that the court must not try to look at the wider issues in the case at an interim hearing is because it just wouldn’t be fair to anyone to do so. Interim hearings are usually arranged urgently and you will be lucky to get any more than a day of the court’s time to hear them. There simply won’t be time to give all the issues the attention they deserve. However, the court can’t ignore likely future outcomes and when considering what is in a child’s best interests must take account of all the circumstances and will concern itself with the reality of the child’s situation.

Proportionality is a key concept in family law, arising from Article 8 of the European Convention. Interfering with a child or parent’s right to a family life can only be allowed if it is in accordance with the law, necessary and proportionate.

Therefore, if the LA wanted to take a child from home at an interim stage because there were concerns about an untidy house or couple of incidents of shouting, that almost certainly would not be considered proportionate. But if the child had a broken arm and no one could explain how it happened, interim removal almost certainly would be considered proportionate.

 

What happens next?

The Court of Appeal reminds us that even when the court has decided it is right to make an interim care order it must be alive to what is going to happen to the child after the order is made and how the LA is going to exercise its statutory responsibilities. This evidence is ‘bound to be relevant to the welfare analysis and proportionality evaluation’.

 

Further reading

  • See the case of L (A Child) [2013] for further consideration of when a removal of a new born baby is lawful. In this case, the baby was returned to his mother’s care pending final hearing.
  • Here is an example of where the court allowed an appeal against an interim removal because of very serious irregularities in the procedure and a failure by the Magistrates to properly consider the legal test.
  • If you want to read more about the impact of the ECHR on family law, here is a useful article.

 

Emergency Protection Orders

There is obviously going to be some overlap between cases where the LA apply for removal under an EPO or an ICO.

One important difference between the two is that an EPO can only last for 8 days when it is first made and then can only be extended for a further 7 days. Interim care orders can last for a lot longer. See this article by Andrew Pack about how time limits for ICOs have been extended by the Children and Families Act 2014.

EPOs should only be used when a situation is urgent. It is essential that courts consider and apply the guidance in the case law about how to approach EPOs, given the serious consequences of making such an order.

See re X (Emergency Protection Orders) [2006] 2 FLR 701. Here the Judge referred to the guidance of an earlier case and made it clear this guidance was ‘essential reading’ for any court making a decision about an EPO.

See paragraph 64 of his judgment onwards:

Very serious reasons needed for an EPO

  • An EPO, summarily removing a child from his parents, is a ‘draconian’ and ‘extremely harsh’ measure, requiring ‘exceptional justification’ and ‘extraordinarily compelling reasons’. Such an order should not be made unless the [court] is satisfied that it is both necessary and proportionate and that no other less radical form of order will achieve the essential end of promoting the welfare of the child. Separation is only to be contemplated if immediate separation is essential to secure the child’s safety: ‘imminent danger’ must be ‘actually established’.
  • Both the local authority which seeks and the [court] which makes an EPO assume a heavy burden of responsibility. It is important that both the local authority and the [court] approach every application for an EPO with an anxious awareness of the extreme gravity of the relief being sought and a scrupulous regard for the European Convention rights of both the child and the parents.

 

The EPO must be a proportionate response to the concerns about the child

  • Any order must provide for the least interventionist solution consistent with the preservation of the child’s immediate safety.
  • If the real purpose of the local authority’s application is to enable it to have the child assessed then consideration should be given to whether that objective cannot equally effectively, and more proportionately, be achieved by an application for, or by the making of, a Child Assessment Order under section 43 of the Children Act 1989.
  • No EPO should be made for any longer than is absolutely necessary to protect the child. Where the EPO is made on an ex parte [without notice to the other side] application very careful consideration should be given to the need to ensure that the initial order is made for the shortest possible period commensurate with the preservation of the child’s immediate safety.

 

Proper evidence is needed to justify an EPO and parents need to know what it is

  • The evidence in support of the application for an EPO must be full, detailed, precise and compelling. Unparticularised generalities will not suffice. The sources of hearsay evidence must be identified. Expressions of opinion must be supported by detailed evidence and properly articulated reasoning.
  • Save in wholly exceptional cases, parents must be given adequate prior notice of the date, time and place of any application by a local authority for an EPO. They must also be given proper notice of the evidence the local authority is relying upon.
  • Where the application for an EPO is made [without notice] the local authority must make out a compelling case for applying without first giving the parents notice. An application [without notice] will normally be appropriate only if the case is genuinely one of emergency or other great urgency – and even then it should normally be possible to give some kind of albeit informal notice to the parents – or if there are compelling reasons to believe that the child’s welfare will be compromised if the parents are alerted in advance to what is going on.
  • The evidential burden on the local authority is even heavier if the application is made [without notice]. Those who seek relief [without notice] are under a duty to make the fullest and most candid and frank disclosure of all the relevant circumstances known to them. This duty is not confined to the material facts: it extends to all relevant matters, whether of fact or of law.
  • Section 45(7)(b) of the Children Act 1989 permits the [court] to hear oral evidence. But it is important that those who are not present should nonetheless be able to know what oral evidence and other materials have been put before the [court]…
  • The mere fact that the [court is under obligations to record the evidence] is no reason why the local authority should not immediately, on request, inform the parents of exactly what has gone on in their absence. Parents against whom an EPO is made [without notice] are entitled to be given, if they ask, proper information as to what happened at the hearing and to be told, if they ask: (i) exactly what documents, bundles or other evidential materials were lodged with the [court] either before or during the course of the hearing; and (ii) what legal authorities were cited to the [court]. The local authority’s legal representatives should respond forthwith to any reasonable request from the parents or their legal representatives either for copies of the materials read by the [court] or for information about what took place at the hearing. It will, therefore, be prudent for those acting for the local authority in such a case to keep a proper note of the proceedings, lest they otherwise find themselves embarrassed by a proper request for information which they are unable to provide.

 

Is there an alternative to an EPO?

  • Section 44(5)(b) of the Children Act 1989 provides that the local authority may exercise its parental responsibility only in such manner ‘as is reasonably required to safeguard or promote the welfare of the child’. Section 44(5)(a) provides that the local authority shall exercise its power of removal under s 44(4)(b)(i) ‘only … in order to safeguard the welfare of the child’. The local authority must apply its mind very carefully to whether removal is essential in order to secure the child’s immediate safety. The mere fact that the local authority has obtained an EPO is not of itself enough. The [court] decides whether to make an EPO. But the local authority decides whether to remove. The local authority, even after it has obtained an EPO, is under an obligation to consider less drastic alternatives to emergency removal. Section 44(5) requires a process within the local authority whereby there is a further consideration of the action to be taken after the EPO has been obtained. Though no procedure is specified, it will obviously be prudent for local authorities to have in place procedures to ensure both that the required decision-making actually takes place and that it is appropriately documented.

 

LA needs to keep the case constantly under review and arrange proper contact.

  •  Consistently with the local authority’s positive obligation under Art 8 to take appropriate action to reunite parent and child, s 44(10)(a) and s 44(11)(a) impose on the local authority a mandatory obligation to return a child who it has removed under s 44(4)(b)(i) to the parent from whom the child was removed if ‘it appears to [the local authority] that it is safe for the child to be returned’. This imposes on the local authority a continuing duty to keep the case under review day by day so as to ensure that parent and child are separated for no longer than is necessary to secure the child’s safety. In this, as in other respects, the local authority is under a duty to exercise exceptional diligence.
  • Section 44(13) of the Children Act 1989 requires the local authority, subject only to any direction given by the [court] under s 44(6), to allow a child who is subject to an EPO ‘reasonable contact’ with his parents. Arrangements for contact must be driven by the needs of the family, not stunted by lack of resources.

 

Further Reading

For information about what the courts expect from practitioners at an urgent hearing and how court bundles should be prepared, see this guidance from Cobb J in 2014.