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Section 31 Orders

Becoming a parent or guardian of a baby is a beautiful moment. However, there are  times when the relationship between a child and their parents or guardian can become strained, and even dangerous. Thankfully, children are protected by a series of orders aimed at removing them from unsafe environments, maintaining comfortable and positive environments to preserve their emotional health and welfare. 

A Section 31 Order can be a heartbreaking ordeal for parents who are faced with losing the care of their children. Learning more about the Children Act 1989 and the associated order can help parents facing this situation understand how to move to a discharge of the order later. Austin Kemp are experts in child law: contact our child law specialists today to see how we can help you.

What is a Section 31 Order?

A Section 31 Order is part of a more significant Act of Parliament known as the Children Act 1989. This Act is centred on the idea that the best place for children is in the care of their own families. However, the Act recognizes that there are times when children may not be safe within their families, and through a series of orders, ensures children are safe, and their welfare is promoted first and foremost. 

The Children Act 1989 makes clear that all judgments and orders should have the child’s welfare in mind. Orders should be taken immediately, and delays could have a detrimental effect on the child’s physical, mental, and emotional health. Thus, a child whose welfare is in question should be provided a solution that takes their wishes into account, as well as their educational needs, background, and the parents’ ability to care for the child. This ensures the child’s well-being is secured with the least amount of distress.

Learn more about care proceedings, and view our insights from legal experts for more information on related family law issues.

What happens during a Section 31 Order?

If there is any suspicion of wrongdoing to a child, the Children Act 1989 (ChA 1989) Section 31 says the child can be placed in the care of, or supervised by, a specified local authority. The goal is to help the child in question feel safe and comfortable. According to the Section 31 Care Order, the Court can make the order determination if they are appropriately satisfied that:

  • The child concerned is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm.
  • The harm or likelihood of harm is attributable to the care given to the child, or likely to be given to him, if the Order were not made.
  • The child is beyond parental control.

It’s important to note that the Section 31 care order cannot be made once a child has reached the age of 17.

Although the local authority will have legal responsibility for the care of the child, parents and guardians may be allowed reasonable contact with their child while they are in care, unless this contact could harm the child’s welfare. 

Interim care orders are a temporary outcome of a court order. These orders can be placed for up to eight weeks on the first instance, and allow local authorities to conduct home assessments. A full care order is sought when parents do not show appropriate movement toward reconciliation – setting up counselling, abstaining from drug or alcohol abuse – or when the Court does not believe the parents can ensure the child’s safety. 

Who can apply for a Section 31 Care Order?

The only individuals or groups who may apply for a care order are local authorities or the NSPCC. The court itself cannot begin the Section 31 Care Order proceedings, but can direct the local authority to begin an investigation and initiate the Order. 

For the court to apply for a care order, the local authority must prove the child meets the ‘threshold criteria’, as the above are commonly identified. As the Children Act 1989 believes children are ultimately best cared for in their own families, the local authority must present appropriate evidence a Section 31 Care Order is necessary.

How to end a Section 31 Order

Parents and guardians can have an opportunity to discharge the order after the care and home environment have been assessed and deemed appropriate for the child’s return. The Section 31 care order can only be discharged when the court is convinced there is a profound change in the circumstances of the home. These reports should be categorised by therapists, GPs, or other agencies who can assert that the parents or guardians can resume care for the children.

Reports should be specific to the original concern that lead to the Section 31 care order. If drug and alcohol abuse were a determining factor, you would need to prove a significant time with abstinence or engage with substance misuse services. If your parenting ability was called into question with the Section 31 care order, it’s helpful to show attendance in therapy or parenting courses. The more specific your reports are, the better chance you’ll have for your children’s return.

Austin Kemp – Family Law Services for You

Retaining a trusted lawyer to assist in the discharge of the care order will ensure a smooth transition. The Courts will always act in the child’s best interests, so it is critical for parents attempting to retain parental responsibility and bring their children back into their care to have a solid argument for a change in circumstance, as well as the correct forms and documents.

Parents deserve a caring and understanding lawyer to navigate the Section 31 Care Order system and the discharge of the order.  The team at Austin Kemp makes up an elite team of lawyers specialising in complex family law. With decades of experience helping high net worth individuals help protect their families, we’re poised with thoughtful care to support your family. There are countless reasons why you should choose our family law solicitors; just read our client success stories and client testimonials for real-life examples of our work.  See our law firm’s story to learn about our history and our values. 

Call our family law solicitors today or chat with us online to get the answer to any questions you may have.

FAQs related to children’s social care

What is private fostering?

Private fostering is when a child under the age of 16 (or under 18 if the child has a disability) receives care from someone other than a parent or close relative. An arrangement is made between a parent and a carer for 28 days or more. Local councils should be notified about private fostering arrangements.

What is a Section 34 Order?

Section 34 of the Children Act 1989 states that authorities must allow “reasonable” contact between a child in its care and their parents, guardians, or those with parental responsibilities. The nature of this contact can vary between cases, and is influenced by factors like the resources of the local authority and the circumstances of those involved. 

Does a care order remove parental responsibility?

When children are the subject of a care order, the local authority takes legal responsibility for the child. Parents still have parental responsibility, although the local authority can limit this if it’s in the child’s best interest.

Austin Kemp are experts in family law

Our lawyers are experts in family law,  with years of experience in child law and custody. Get in touch today to see how we can help you.

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09th December 2021

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