Welcome to another week.

Social workers were considered to be the least helpful people during care proceedings, while judges and legal professionals were considered to be the most helpful, according to new research looking at parents whose children were made the subject of a supervision order or a care order at home at the end of care proceedings.

Care orders at home enable children to remain with their parents while a care order is in place. The executive summary for the research says: “When a child is made subject to a care order at home, parents share responsibility with the local authority. The order lasts until the child reaches eighteen unless the local authority discharges it earlier or the parent successfully applies for its discharge. The child is a ‘looked after child’ within the terms of regulations and guidance and can be removed from parents without the need to return to court.”

The research was produced for the government by the Centre for Child and Family Justice Research at Lancaster University.

The findings highlight the reality that big caseloads and a lack of resources — which are experienced by everyone inside the child protection system, not just social workers — are clearly not the drivers behind poor social work practice. If judges and lawyers can be helpful, social workers can be helpful too.

The researchers interviewed 44 parents, and 20 of the families had experience of a child on a supervision order, while 24 had a child living at home on a care order.

There’s some propaganda to wade through, but if you can stomach reading the odd quote from government stooges like Chief Social Worker Isabelle Trowler who once said, “The vast majority of decisions taken to initiate care proceedings were certainly reasonable. The question is whether or not they were always necessary” (an uninformed and deeply offensive comment considering the high stakes in care proceedings), it’s an interesting piece of research.

These were the key findings from the report:

On pre-proceedings and the court experience

Most parents felt that they had not received enough help during pre-proceedings.

• Most parents felt the court treated them with a lack of respect and understanding of their mental health, substance misuse and domestic abuse problems. It made it harder for parents to present their situation and circumstances effectively.

• Some parents from ethnic minorities reported a lack of cultural sensitivity.

• Parents found judges and their legal representatives the most helpful, and social workers the least helpful professionals during proceedings. The relationship between the local authority and parent had improved by the time the final order was made in most cases.

• Parents wanted clearer explanations of the court process with better signposting to the next steps.

• Some parents did not understand why they were not allowed to work or remain in education during the proceedings when their child was not living at home. They worried it would push them into poverty and harm their job prospects.

• A few parents, with previous experience of ordinary care proceedings, had their case heard in a Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC). They felt that FDAC offered a better approach.

Parents welcomed both the making of a supervision order and care order at home.It meant they could be a family again.

On the implementation of the supervision order

Parents had mixed views on how helpful the supervision order had been. For some it had provided all the support and services they needed. For a few, it had not helped or been supportive. The largest group of parents had a mixed experience. Nearly all parents felt that the supervision order could work better.

The relationship between parents and the social workers was a key determinant of their experience of the supervision order. Trust was a critical issue. Providing guidance, practical help, being knowledgeable about the issues parents were dealing with, and fighting their corner were equally important.

• Most parents praised children’s nurseries, schools and health visitors for supporting them and arranging services for their children.

• Multi-agency working was uncommon, but it was considered very useful when it did happen.

Parents who had experienced domestic abuse reported that support from children’s services was limited to referral to courses on co-parenting and the Freedom Project.

• The engagement of the wider family had sometimes been identified in the care plan, but family group conferences were rare. Sometimes relatives stepped in to help parents when children’s services had under-delivered.

• Many parents felt that the support for their family outlined in the care plan, or a support need that emerged during the period of the supervision order, was not delivered.

• The framework for delivering and ending the supervision order was very variable. Parents wanted to see a formal review introduced at nine months and some thought reviews should begin much earlier.

• They advised other parents to see the supervision order as an opportunity and not to be afraid to ask for support and services they needed.

On implementation of the care order at home

Most parents felt that their family had been helped by the care order at home.

• Parents with experience of both supervision orders and care orders at home preferred care orders at home because they:
o made parents feel safe and confident that the order would be delivered
because of the legal requirements
o provided a consistent delivery framework
o were more likely to deliver support and services.

• Some parents found the care order at home placed restrictions on the family which they did not always understand. They could prevent families developing social relationships and moving on with their lives.

• Contact arrangements were singled out as a particularly difficult area.

• Parents felt motivated when discharge was planned early so they could move on with their lives.

• The parents’ relationship with the social worker was extremely important. Most parents had a positive relationship with the social worker. Trust was a key factor.

Parents also offered recommendations which were included in the research:

Listen to parents and provide more support and collaboration in pre-proceedings, with clear directions, advice, and be specific about expectations and timescales.

  1. Involve an ‘independent parent supporter’ to provide legal, emotional, and practical support to the parent from pre-proceedings to the end of the order.
  2. Ensure continuity of personnel, especially between pre-proceedings and care proceedings.
  3. Care proceedings need to be more humane and more understandable, with information leaflets written from the parents’ perspective.
  4. Use the 26 weeks’ timeframe more flexibly to increase opportunities for families to stay together or be reunited.
  5. Retain but revamp the supervision order to provide more consistency, support, intensive services for parents, and a fully independent reviewing process.
  6. Retain the care order at home with a set end point.
  7. Introduce an order to sit between the supervision order and care order at home.
  8. Overhaul the response to domestic abuse in the child protection and family justice system to include single and multi-disciplinary training for child protection and family justice personnel, more services and a change of culture in the courts and children’s services to avoid the risk of re-victimisation.

You can access the research in full here.

Families who would like to know more about the law and procedures that must be followed for children subject to care orders who are placed at home, can access this information from Knowsley’s council’s page.