Can you Discharge a Care Order?

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What is a care order?

A care order is usually sought by the local authority (such as a social services department) when they believe that a child is at risk of significant harm or is not receiving adequate care within their family. The order grants the local authority the legal authority to make decisions about the child’s living arrangements, education, and overall welfare. It can involve placing the child in foster care, with relatives, or in a residential care setting. 

Care orders are not made lightly, and the decision to place a child under the care of the local authority is typically based on evidence presented to the court regarding the child’s circumstances. The court aims to make decisions that are in the best interests of the child and will review the case regularly to ensure that the child’s needs are being met.

Discharging a care order in the UK involves a legal process, and it’s not always a straightforward matter. An application to discharge a care order typically requires demonstrating to the court that the circumstances have changed, and it is now in the best interests of the child to return home or be placed in a different arrangement.

If you would like more information on how to apply to discharge a care order, then get in touch with Expert Family Law today to find out how one of the legal experts on our panel can assist you with your case.

Who can apply for a care order?

Applications for a care order are typically made by local authorities or any other person with parental responsibility. Local authorities have a legal responsibility to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in their area. If they have concerns about a child’s well-being, they may initiate court care proceedings to obtain a care order and care plan.

When is a care order made?

A care order in the UK is typically made by a court when there are serious concerns about a child’s welfare, and it is deemed necessary for the local authorities to take legal responsibility for the child’s care. The decision to make a care order is not taken lightly, and it is generally based on evidence presented in court that demonstrates that the child is at risk of significant harm or is not receiving adequate care within their family.

Under the Children’s Act 1989, a care order may be made:

  • Risk of Suffering Significant Harm: If there is evidence that a child is at risk of significant harm due to abuse, neglect, or other factors within their family environment, the local authorities may apply for a care order.
  • Parental Inability to Provide Adequate Care: If it is determined that the child’s parents or guardians are unable or unwilling to provide the necessary care and protection, a care order may be considered.
  • Serious Family Dysfunction: Cases involving severe family dysfunction, such as domestic violence, substance abuse, or mental health issues that put the child at risk may lead to the parent or local authority applying for an order.  
  • Consent or Agreement: In some cases, parents or guardians may voluntarily agree to a care order if they recognise that it is in the best interests of the child. This may happen when they are unable to provide adequate care themselves.
  • Emergency Situations: In urgent situations where the child is at immediate risk, the court may issue an emergency care order to ensure the child’s safety while a more comprehensive assessment is conducted.

It’s important to note that the decision to make a care order under section 31 of the Children’s Act is made by the court, and the court’s paramount consideration is the best interests of the child. Social services will typically appoint an Independent Review Officer to oversee the care plan of the child in place. 

Can you discharge a care order?

It is possible to discharge a care order in the UK, but the process is not automatic, and it requires careful consideration of the child’s best interests. Discharging a care order involves going back to court and demonstrating that the circumstances have changed significantly since the care order was granted, making it in the child’s best interests to return home or be placed in a different arrangement.

Some key points to keep in mind:

  • Changed Circumstances: To have a care order discharged, you generally need to show that there have been substantial changes in circumstances since the order was made. This may include improvements in the parents’ or guardians’ situation, stability in the home environment, or other factors that address the concerns that led to the care order.
  • Social Services Assessment: Social services will likely conduct assessments to evaluate whether the concerns that led to the care order have been addressed and whether it is safe for the child to return home. A positive evaluation can strengthen the case for discharge.
  • Court Application: You will need to make an application to the court to have the care order discharged. This is typically done through a family court, and the court will schedule hearings to consider the application.
  • Evidence and Legal Representation: It is essential to present evidence to the court that supports the argument for discharging the care order. This may involve providing documentation, witness statements, and other relevant information. It is strongly advisable to seek legal representation from a family law solicitor who can guide you through the process.
  • Child’s Best Interests: The court’s primary consideration is always the best interests of the child. The court will assess whether it is in the child’s best interests to return home or be placed in a different arrangement.
  • Court Hearings: The court will hold hearings to consider the application. During these hearings, evidence will be presented, and the court will make a decision during a final hearing based on the circumstances presented.

How can Expert Family Law assist?

We understand that disputes involving children and their care can be incredibly complex and sensitive. The family lawyers on our panel can provide you with the best legal advice and assistance on discharging a care order.

As well as assisting with discharging a care order, our panel of family law solicitors can also advise and help on the process of child maintenance payments, divorce and the division of assets following the breakdown of a marriage or civil partnership (ancillary relief).

We ensure that the family law solicitors on our panel have the skills and experience required to assist with your legal case. We can assure you that your case will be dealt with in a compassionate and understanding manner.

Please get in touch with our team today to discuss how we can assist you and if you may be eligible for legal aid. 


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