A care order is a court order that places a child under the care of a local council. The local council then shares parental responsibility for the child with the parents and will make most of the important decisions about the child's upbringing, such as where they live and how they are educated.
The legal processes relating to making arrangements for the custody of children are often criticised for being too lengthy. Recently, the Government has announced new procedures which are being introduced in an attempt to reduce the often substantial delays between the application for a care order and the completion of the arrangements for the care of the children involved (termed the ‘disposal’ in legal parlance).
Currently, the time taken between application and disposal in care proceedings is, on average, just under a year. This is clearly too long, especially as in many cases the children are returned to the care of their parents, rather than being taken into care, at the end of the proceedings.
A new system is being trialled, in various cities across the UK, which it is hoped will reduce the time required for the completion of care proceedings. In order to be a success, the new system will require a great deal of preparatory work to be carried out earlier in the process than is currently the case. This burden will fall on local authorities. The rest of the process, after the initial stage, will be subject to a strict timetable.
The pilot scheme has been launched in ten areas. If it is successful, it will be rolled out nationally in the spring of 2008. However, since no extra resources have been allocated by the Government, it remains to be seen how well local authorities will cope with the extra burden this will impose.
There is a more detailed summary in New Law Journal, 12 October 2007.