When a social worker is worried about a child, they will do everything in their power to support the birth family to make changes so that the child is safe and given the care they need. Sometimes, birth families are unable to make these changes and social workers need to take further steps to protect the child.
Social workers do not have the power to remove a child from their birth family, they must go to Court (or in an emergency the police) for this to happen and provide evidence that the child has, or is at risk of suffering significant harm. Within the court process, sometimes known as care proceedings, decisions are made about the child’s future.
When decisions are made about a child in Court, an Order is made. Here are explanations of some of the Orders which you may have come across:-
Placement Order – A Placement Order means that the court has decided that the child should have a care plan of adoption. This is needed for a child to be placed in an adoptive placement.
Special Guardianship Order – A Special Guardianship Order appoints a special guardian – who will care for a child and make decisions in the child’s best interests. The child’s legal relationship with their birth parents continues even though they are living with the special guardian on a long term basis. This order is often used when it is decided that child should be cared for by a family member, or family friend, or sometimes their foster carers.
Child Arrangement Order – A Child Arrangement Order is used to specify a particular arrangement. This may be who the child lives with, such as their mother or their father, if they cannot agree this between themselves. This can also be used to specify a contact plan for the child. This is a relatively new order which replaces Residence Orders and Contact Orders.
When a child is placed with their prospective adopter(s) they are still a ‘looked after child’. This means that parental responsibility is held primarily by the Local Authority, and only delegated to the prospective adopters. During this time there will be social worker visits and Looked after Children (LAC) Reviews.
After a child has been placed with their prospective adopters for 10 weeks, the prospective adopter(s) can apply for an Adoption Order. Good practice is to discuss this with professionals supporting the placement to make sure everyone is in agreement. Your supporting social worker will be able to provide advice and guidance about how to make the application
Adoption Order – An Adoption Order gives the prospective adopter(s) full parental responsibility for the child and means that the child is legally adopted. As part of this, the child’s legal relationship with their birth parents ends.
Once prospective adopter(s) make their application for an Adoption Order, the Court will send out notifications to the relevant parties. Notification will be sent to the Agencies involved in placing the child with a request for a report about the placement, known as an Annex A. Notifications will also be made to the birth parents and they will be asked if they are seeking to contest this.
- If the birth parents do not seek to contest, the Adoption Order may be made at the first hearing.
- If the birth parents do seek to contest an Adoption Order they will need to evidence a significant change in their circumstances. The Court will need to consider this carefully and this often leads to a delay in the process. This can be a really stressful experience for prospective adopters and it’s important to remember that your social worker is there to support you.
Prospective adopters do not attend these hearings, but should be kept abreast of what is happening by the social workers. When an Adoption Order is made, there are 21 days during which birth parents can seek to appeal. Nothing formal marks this 21 day period passing but it is at this point that the child is legally and unchangeably adopted.
At this time, the adoptive family can arrange a Celebration Hearing at a court of their choosing. This is a short hearing presided over by a Judge or Magistrate and provides an opportunity for the adopters, child and close family/friends to celebrate the adoption. The social workers involved in the placement will also be invited. There is sometimes a limit on the number of people who can attend so it can be worth contacting the court to see what they allow.