The Public Law Working Group (PLWG) has set out new best practice guidance (BPG) for the making and operation of supervision orders as part of its report, Recommendations to achieve best practice in the child protection and family justice systems: Supervision orders.
This follows a consultation on proposals to law, policy and practice in relation to supervision orders made at the conclusion of care proceedings to support the child to live with (a) parent(s).
The President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, told a recent Courts and Tribunals Judiciary webinar that supervision orders are “a very useful order in the armoury of the court and social worker”:
“They sit as a halfway house between making a full care order, with all the responsibility that would then be shared and controlled by the local authority, and making no order at all. Making them as effective as possible is very important, and they have the potential for being a far more useful order than I think they are seeing now.”
Indeed, almost all respondents to the PLWG’s consultation supported the retention of supervision orders, though almost all agreed they needed reforming in order to be a more robust and effective public law order.
In aiming to achieve this, the PLWG – whose membership includes directors of children’s services, the CEO and director of Cafcass, academics, judges, solicitors, and more – has put together new BPG, the three overarching principles of which are:
- The child’s welfare is paramount.
- Children are best looked after within their families, with their parents playing a full part in their lives, unless compulsory intervention in family life is necessary.
- Any interference in family life should be necessary and proportionate. That means action taken should be no more than is needed to achieve the aim of keeping the child safe and well.
The PLWG made five key recommendations for the implementation of change:
- Each local authority’s children’s services department implements the BPG.
- Supervision orders are only made when all of the matters set out in the supervision order template within the BPG have been considered and addressed.
- Each children’s services department adopts and completes the self-audit questions within the BPG in respect of every supervision order made in its favour.
- Each children’s services department considers developing good practice tools to embed the BPG.
- In light of the report and recommendations of the Independent Care Review commissioned by HM Government, HM Government to commit to provide the necessary resources to local authorities to enable them to adopt and implement the BPG to the fullest and most effective extent possible.
In addition, the report makes four proposals for long-term change. These recommendations will require legislative changes to be implemented and/or the approval of additional public spending by the Government. They are:
- Amending the Children Act 1989 to provide a statutory basis for supervision support plans (akin to s 31A, CA 1989 in respect of care plans).
- Placing local authorities under a statutory duty to provide support and services under a supervision order.
- Amending statutory guidance to reflect the recommendations in this report and the BPG.
- HM Government undertaking or funding an external body to identify all supervision orders made by the Family Court to support family reunification and collect data on (a) the supervision plan at the end of proceedings, (b) the implementation of the plan during the life of the supervision order and (c) change of placement or return to court for the children and their parents up to two years after the end of the supervision order
In welcoming and endorsing the report, the President of the Family Division said:
“This report makes recommendations to ensure that in the future a supervision order is a robust and effective public law order to secure and promote the welfare of children in the care of their parent(s) or wider family. The Best Practice Guidance sets out six core best principles which underpin the making and operation of supervision orders. I am particularly impressed by the new requirement of best practice that a supervision order should only be made when the court has approved a supervision support plan which clearly sets out the support and resources to be provided for a family by a local authority.
It has been a striking feature of this work that the development of the group’s ideas and recommendations has been organic and has proceeded at each turn on the basis of agreement across the board, rather than controversy. That this is so, strongly suggests that the recommendations made are both sound and necessary. It gives ground for real optimism that the messages in this report will be welcomed by social workers, lawyers, judges, magistrates, and court staff across England and Wales and that, after a short implementation period, they can be put into effect and begin to make a real difference on the ground. That is my earnest hope and confident expectation.”