At BH&O, we know what a great job many grandparents, aunts and uncles and relatives are doing in looking after children who might otherwise be in the care system or placed for adoption. Almost every week we get a call from a relative seeking advice on caring for a child of the family.
We also receive enquiries from relatives wanting to challenge a negative kinship assessment within care proceedings, and our team are well versed in advising in both situations.
There are a number of different options that could be available to kinship carers.
Child arrangements Order (“CAO”)
- This is an Order which can be made in care proceedings or in private law proceedings.
- A Child Arrangements Order can state who the child is to live with, which can mean that the relative shares parental responsibility (“PR”) with the parents, if they become the main carer.
- A CAO usually lasts until the child reaches 16 or further Order, but it is possible for the Court to state that the Order will continue until the child is 18.
- The relative can apply to the Local Authority for a CAO allowance, but this is discretionary and means-tested. Our experience is that it is rare for this to be awarded.
- They will be entitled to Child Benefit.
- The Local Authority has no on-going role (once care proceedings have concluded) unless a Supervision Order is made alongside the CAO or there are other reasons for Social Workers to remain involved.
- Day-to-day decisions are taken by the primary carers but they must consult parents in respect of important matters, as PR is shared.
- If there are care proceedings, then the relative being granted a CAO which confirms the child lives with them, will be entitled to non means tested, not merit tested legal aid to be represented in those care proceedings as a party, in the same way as a parent would.
Special Guardianship Order (“SGO”)
- Special Guardianship Orders can be made in private law, or care proceedings.
- Parents retain parental responsibility, but the relative has “super” PR which means they can make decisions even if there is a disagreement between them and the parents.
- The relative undergoes an in-depth assessment and a Social Worker completes Special Guardianship report.
- The Order is intended to last until the child reaches 18 or further Order.
- There is a higher test to be applied if a parent wants to vary or discharge the Order.
- The relative will be assessed for the support that is needed, and the Local Authority can pay a Special Guardianship Order allowance. Details of this will be considered in a SGO Support Plan.
- The relative can claim Child Benefit.
Foster carer under a Care Order, or under voluntary care (s.20)
- A Care Order can only be made where a Local Authority has started care proceedings, ie: where the Court decides that the children have suffered or are likely to suffer significant harm.
- Under a Care Order, the carers must be approved as foster carers. This involves an in-depth assessment and approval at the Local Authority’s Fostering Panel. Provisional approval can be made for a short period of time.
- The carers become Local Authority foster carers and are paid a fostering allowance.
- They are not entitled to claim Child Benefit.
- The parents retain PR, but this is shared with the Local Authority, and the Local Authority can decide the extent to which the parents are able to exercise their PR. Foster carers do NOT have PR, though on a day to day basis, it can be delegated to them by the local authority.
- A Care Order lasts until child reaches 18 or further Order of the court.
- The carers act as agents of the Local Authority and follow the care plan drawn up by Social Workers.
- The children have an allocated Social Worker for as long as the Care Order is in force, and there are regular Looked After Children (LAC) Reviews. There will also be regular personal education plan meetings and health reviews.
- Any arrangements for baby-sitting or temporary care arrangements need to be approved by the Local Authority, with temporary carers being Police checked.
There might occasionally be other options that we at BH&O can advise you about. We can also advise you about the obligations that might be on the local authority to hyelp you care for the child, including financial aspects, and support generally, and can advise you on the SGO support plan.
Ruth Hawkins, Partner