There is a positive duty on the local authority to allow reasonable contact between a child in care and their parents. What is reasonable is sometimes in dispute and in those circumstances, the court can be asked to make specific directions about how and when contact should occur
If the local authority wants to suspend or stop contact for a period longer than seven days they need to obtain a court order to do so. If there is a dispute between the local authority and parents about contact, either party can seek a court order to define contact. If the local authority believes that there should be no contact between the child and his parent / guardian the court can make an order authorizing the local authority to refuse to allow any contact.
Sometimes children who are the subject of care orders will remain at home being cared for by their parents, however it is more usual for children who are the subject of care orders to live with foster carers or in residential establishments.
Although the local authority has parental responsibility there are some decisions which require everyone with parental responsibility to agree including:
- agreeing for the child to be adopted;
- causing the child to be brought up in any religious persuasion other than that which they would have been brought up if the care order had not been made;
- allowing the child to live outside the UK for more than 28 days
If agreement cannot be reached then the court can make an order.
Where the plans for the child are for adoption or to live outside England or Wales, further court orders specifically permitting this are required.
Children who are the subject of care orders are the subject of regular reviews by the local authority. Each child will have an individual care plan that sets out how all their needs will be met. These reviews will consider amongst other things the arrangements for contact with the family and others, as well as the child’s health and educational needs. All local authorities must appoint Independent Reviewing Officers who must work to ensure compliance with care plans. The local authority has responsibilities to ensure that plans are made and preparations in place before the child is 18, to enable the child to make the transition to independence, and the local authority continues to have duties towards the child until they are 23 years old.