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Professionals back supervision orders as an option in care proceedings

Nine out of 10 professionals believe standalone supervision orders should continue to be an option in care proceedings, according to a survey by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory.

Professionals felt that supervision orders should continue to be available during care proceedings, mainly due to the need for a proportionate order between a care order and no order when children were returning home at the end of proceedings in which the threshold for a care or supervision order had been established.

Lisa Harker, director of Nuffield FJO, said: “The Nuffield Family Justice Observatory is committed to holding up a mirror to practice in the family justice system. For some time questions have been raised about the effectiveness and value of supervision orders. Respondents to this survey highlighted many of the problems.
However, there was also strong support for retaining supervision orders if these problems can be addressed.”

Supervision orders are one of the options available to courts hearing care proceedings if they are satisfied that the grounds for a care or supervision order exist. The order places a child under the supervision of the local authority which then has a duty to ‘advise, assist and befriend’ the child.

The Nuffield FJO surveyed 300 people including 10 parents and 291 from professionals involved in family justice, mainly social work managers (53), judges (48) and barristers (45).

Reasons for making or arguing for supervision orders, or for seeing them as helpful, included:

- Keeping the local authority involved with the child and family

- Encouraging the local authority to provide support

- The need for a proportionate order

- To support children and parents where the situation had improved but where ongoing help was necessary

- Where some risk remained that the return home might not be successful

- Where children were older and did not want a care order to encourage engagement between parents and the local authority

- For supervision of contact.

Concerns about supervision orders included the support identified was not always provided, they were not properly enforceable, there was a lack of clarity about accountability and the view that they added little to the support that could be provided under a child in need or child protection plan.

Lancaster University research previously raised questions about the effectiveness of standalone supervision orders and identified varying practice across regions.

In October 2018, the President of the Family Division set up The Public Law Working Group to address the operation of the child protection and family justice systems. Recently, the Working Group published its report which recommended that a sub group to the group was established to examine supervision orders, review and make proposals relating to practice, statutory guidance, regulation and law to enhance the effectiveness of supervision orders as a public law order which have not been reviewed since the enactment of the Children Act 1989.

Furthermore, the Working Group recommended that the government should review the components of a supervision order with the recommendation that they be revised to provide a more robust and effective form of a public law order. It suggested that this could form part of the wider Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, currently underway.

Proposals in the Nuffield FJO survey for improving the effectiveness and robustness of the order included:

- Specific obligations for both parents and local authorities should be set out in a written plan

- The support plan should be specific to the needs of the child and parents, and not formulaic

- Measurable outcomes should be identified

- There should be an agreed process for reviewing the progress of the support plan, which should involve an independent element

- The process for returning to court if the support plan is not being followed should be clearer and available to all parties

- There should be more flexibility in the time periods supervision orders can be made for

- There should be more funding available for the implementation of support plans.

The Nuffield FJO said the responses support the recommendations of the Public Law Working Group that a review of the effectiveness and robustness of the order should be carried out.

Supervision orders in care proceedings

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