Court orders to protect children

This advice applies to Wales. See advice for England, Northern Ireland, Scotland

Your local council can apply for a court order if they think your child needs protection.

You should get specialist legal help from a solicitor as soon as possible if either:

  • your local council are applying for a court order for your child

  • a court has already made an order for your child

Find a solicitor who has 'Children Law Accreditation' - this means they're specialists in legal issues to do with children. You can find a solicitor with Children Law Accreditation on the Law Society website.

You can get legal aid to help pay for a solicitor - find out more about legal aid for family matters on the Child Law Advice website.

Emergency protection orders

Your local council will apply for an emergency protection order if they think both of the following apply:

  • your child is suffering significant harm - or is about to suffer significant harm unless your local council gets involved

  • they must take action straight away because the situation is urgent

The law says your child suffers harm if someone or something has a bad effect on their mental or physical health and development. The harm is significant if it has serious long term effects on your child - or it could have in the future.

If the court makes an emergency protection order, a social worker might collect your child and take them to be looked after somewhere else. 

The social worker is allowed to go into your child’s home to collect them. They can also collect your child from another place, for example their school or a friend’s house.

An emergency protection order might also:

  • stop you from moving your child from the place they’re staying, which could be their home or another place like a school or hospital

  • let social workers see or speak to your child, even if you don’t want them to

The order can last up to 8 days, then be extended for another 7 days.

If your local council applies for an emergency protection order

The Family Court will have a hearing to decide if an emergency protection order is needed. 

You and your solicitor can go to the hearing - you’ll be able to give your views to the court and say what you think should happen next. 

You’ll get 2 documents before the hearing:

  • a ‘notice of the proceedings’ form, which tells you the date of the hearing and the address of the court

  • a copy of your local council’s application for the emergency protection order 

You might get the documents in the post or they might be given to you in person by a ‘process server’ who visits you at home or at work. If you have a solicitor they might get the documents instead - they should let you know when they have them and give you copies.

You’ll usually get the documents at least 1 day before the hearing.

If the court makes an emergency protection order

You’ll usually be able to see your child while the order is in place, but there might be rules about where and when.

You have to go along with what the order says about where your child will stay and who will look after them.

Important

You could be arrested if you try to stop a social worker from either:

  • taking your child to stay somewhere else

  • keeping your child where the order says they should stay

The order might include other rules about what can and can't happen. These are called 'directions'. For example, there might be directions about:

  • how much contact you or another person can have with your child

  • if your child should have a medical examination or mental health assessment

  • if someone has abused your child they have to stay away from them

If the court order says your child should have a medical examination or mental health assessment, you can ask for a doctor of your choice to be there. This might be your GP or another doctor who knows you and your family.

You can apply to change the directions - speak to your solicitor if you want to do this.

While the emergency protection order is in place, your local council must:

  • review your child’s case regularly to make sure you’re not separated for longer than they think is necessary

  • let your child come back to live with you as soon as they think it’s safe . 

Applying to end an emergency protection order

Your solicitor can apply to end the order if both the following are true:

  • you weren’t told about the application for an emergency protection order before it was made

  • you didn’t go to the hearing where the application was made

Supervision orders

Your local council can apply for a supervision order if they think your child is suffering significant harm, because you and your child’s other parent either:

  • aren’t giving your child the right amount or kind of care can’t control your child’s behaviour  

Your local council can also apply for a supervision order if they think your child is likely to suffer significant harm in the future for the same reasons.

The court will need to see evidence that back’s up your local council's concerns. If there’s no evidence, the court can’t make an order. 

A supervision order:

  • means your local council can monitor your child’s needs and progress. 

  • is made for 1 year, but it can be ended earlier or extended for a total of up to 3 years

If your local council applies for a supervision order

You’ll get a letter telling you your local council is applying for a supervision order.

The Family Court will have hearings to decide if a supervision order is needed.

You and your solicitor can go to the hearings - you’ll be able to give your views to the court and say what you think should happen next.

The first hearing is called the ‘case management hearing’. The court will set dates for each stage of the proceedings at this hearing.

The case management hearing should take place between 12 and 18 days after your local council makes the application.

You'll usually get the following documents at least 7 days before the case management hearing. :

  • a ‘notice of the proceedings’ form, which tells you the date of the hearing and the address of the court

  • a copy of your local council’s application for the supervision order

If the court makes a supervision order

A social worker will spend time with your child, giving them any help and support they need.

The order might include other rules about what can and can't happen. These are called 'directions'. For example, there might be directions saying:

  • you must live where the social worker says, which might be different to where you usually live

  • you must allow the social worker to visit your child

  • you must make sure your child goes to school

  • your child must see a doctor or go for other medical treatment

Applying to end a supervision order

You might be able to apply to end the order. You’ll have to show that things have improved for your child since the supervision order was made. You’ll also have to explain why it’s not needed any more.

You should speak to your solicitor if you want to apply to end the supervision order.

Care orders

Your local council can apply for a care order if they think your child is suffering significant harm because you and your child’s other parent either:

  • aren’t giving your child the right amount or kind of care

  • can’t control your child’s behaviour  

If your local council gets a care order they can take your child into care. This means they become responsible for looking after your child and they decide where they live, which is usually away from home.

A care order can last until your child is 18.

If your local council applies for a care order

You’ll get a letter telling you your local council is applying for a care order.

The Family Court will have hearings to decide if a care order is needed. You and your solicitor can go to the hearings - you’ll be able to give your views to the court and say what you think should happen next.

The first hearing is called the ‘case management hearing’. The court will set dates for each stage of the proceedings at this hearing.

The case management hearing should take place between 12 and 18 days after your local council makes the application.

You’ll usually get these documents at least 7 days before the case management hearing:

  • a ‘notice of the proceedings’ form, which tells you the date of the hearing and the address of the court

  • a copy of your local council’s application for the care order 

The court will arrange for someone to look after your child's interests - they're called a 'children's guardian'. You can find out what the children’s guardian does on GOV.UK.

If the court makes a care order

Your child will be taken into care - you can find out what happens if your child is taken into care because of a care order.

The court might also make a placement order - this allows your local council to send your child to live with people who might adopt them.

If the court decides not to make a care order they might make a supervision order instead.

If the court makes an interim care order

Your local council will temporarily take responsibility for where your child lives, which could be away from their usual home.

The court can also make an ‘exclusion order’ to keep an abuser away from your child’s home. In some cases the police can arrest an abuser if they break an exclusion order.

Appealing, ending or changing a care order

You can:

  • appeal a care order - the time limit to appeal is 21 days after a care order is made or 7 days if it’s an interim care order

  • apply to end a care order

  • apply to change a care order to a supervision order

If you apply to end the care order, you’ll have to show that things have improved for your child since the care order was made. You’ll also have to explain why it’s not needed any more.

You can’t apply to end a care order if a placement order has also been made for your child. You should speak to your solicitor if you want to appeal, end or change a care order.

If you’re unhappy with how your local council has acted towards you and your family you can make a formal complaint.

Page last reviewed on 19 November 2021