Keeping Families Together

Supporting families after care proceedings: Supervision Orders and beyond

This is the title of the study published by the Department of Education (DFE), published by Professor Judith Harwin and Lancaster University.

The study

Provides for the first time the views and experiences of parents who have raised their families post care proceedings under a supervision order or care order.

It was commissioned by the Department for Education (DfE) and will assist in informing the review by the Public Law Working Group (PLWG), set up to make recommendations for reform to produce best practice guidance. It is expected that the final report and guidance by the PLWG sub-group on supervision orders will be published in 2022.

Keeping children within their families together is one of the fundamental principles of the Children Act 1989. This core principle is combined with the need for Children Services to work in partnership with families and local authorities to provide services appropriate to children in their area who are in need. In some cases, this has been achieved with care proceedings concluding with either a care order or supervision order with the child remaining in the family home where it is safe to do so.

The difference in the orders:

Supervision Order

The supervision order is a short term order lasting for up to 12 months. It can be renewed for a further two years. The parent has parental responsibility, and the local authority has a duty to “advise, assist and befriend the supervised child.” (S.35(1)(a) Children act 1989).

The underpinning principle of the supervision order is for the local authority to work in partnership with the family to address the core issues that resulted in and were identified during care proceedings.

Care Order

A care order at home is officially known as placement with parents.  This is where the care proceedings conclude with the child being made subject to a care order and who will live at home. Thereby the child remains a child who is looked after, and parental responsibility is shared between the parents and the local authority. The order lasts up until the child’s eighteenth birthday or if discharged earlier.

The Public Law Working Group’s (PLWG) best practice guidance issued in 2021

specified that the care order at home should only be made for ‘exceptional reasons’ and that it is “wrong to use it as a vehicle for the provision of support and services”. In this situation, a means/route should be devised to provide these necessary support and services without the need to make a care order. “consideration should be given to the making of a supervision order” to support the child remaining in the care of the parents, which may be an appropriate order to support the reunification of the family. (Appendix F paragraphs 34-37)

Some of the key findings of the study:

  • Most parents felt that they had not received enough help during pre-proceedings.
  • Parents called for more support and collaboration in pre-proceedings, with clear directions, advice and specific expectations and timescales.
  • Parents wanted clearer explanations of the court process with better signposting to the next steps.
  • Parents with previous experience felt that the Family Drug and Alcohol Court offered a better approach.
  • Parents found judges and their own legal representatives to be the most helpful during proceedings.
  • Parents found their relationship with the social worker was extremely important and most had a positive relationship, the key factor was trust. Parents that did not have a positive relationship with the local authority, most felt it improved by the time the final order.
  • Parents said multi-agency working was uncommon, but it was considered very useful when it did happen.
  • Parents welcomed both the making of a supervision order and care order at home as it meant they could be a family again. However, they had mixed views on how helpful the supervision order had been. Nearly all parents felt that the supervision order could work better.
  • Parents felt motivated when discharge was planned early so they could move on with their lives.

The study recommends:

  • Strengthening of supervision orders, with the issue of further guidance from the Department of Education to underpin a national best practice framework to help ensure consistency of support and oversight.
  • Improve the court experience, including setting up a PLWG task force and reviewing the possibility of incorporating some features of the compassionate and collaborative approach of the Family Drug and Alcohol Court into mainstream care proceedings.
  • Commissioning parents to co-produce with practitioners a family friendly guide to care proceedings.  
  • Improve the response to domestic abuse, including a round table to develop a multidisciplinary training programme strategy on the identification of and response to domestic abuse. The target groups should include child protection and family court practitioners, and the police.
  • To set up a Government-funded, fixed term Supervision Order Support Fund, similar to the Adoption Support Fund. 


The study’s findings indicate that there is an agreement between parents and professionals that the supervision order should remain but must be strengthened, as families are more likely to get support and services within a consistent framework under a care order at home than under a supervision order. 

Parents who remain or are reunited with their children have high expectations and ambitions for post order support. In their view, keeping families together by means of a court order and a related regime of services and support has an important role to play and deserves proper investment.

Moving Forward

Mr Justice Keehan, who leads on the PLWG, has responded by stating:

“This report will make a very important contribution to the work of the PLWG’s Supervision Order Sub-group. The views of parents about their experience of the family justice system and of appearing in the Family Court must be addressed. We, therefore, propose to establish another sub-group of the PLWG to make recommendations about how the experiences and involvement of parents, carers, young people and children in family court proceedings can be improved for the benefit of all those involved in these cases.”

This study will be extremely beneficial for the ongoing work of the PLWG, and the recommendations are awaited. The study is a good reminder of the benefits of the core principles of the Children Act and how families can be supported to stay together with the local authority providing support and services tailored for the child’s specific needs.

How we can help

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Disclaimer: The contents of this guide are for information and are not intended to be relied upon as legal advice

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