What is a child assessment order?
A child assessment order is an order of the court authorising an assessment of a child’s health and development and of the way a child is being treated. A child subject to a child assessment order is a looked after child under the terms of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995.
A sheriff may make directions regarding the contact which the child should have with the parents, other family members and any person named in the order. Any such direction must be complied with by the local authority.
Conditions to be satisfied before an order can be obtained
In the course of fulfilling their duty under Section 53 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 to inquire into information which suggests a child may be in need of compulsory measures of supervision, a local authority may consider it necessary to seek a child assessment order.
In order to satisfy a sheriff that such an order is necessary the following three conditions set out in Section 55 (1) require to be met:
- the local authority must have reasonable cause to suspect that the child for whom the order is being sought is being so treated (or neglected) that he/ she is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm
- such assessment of the child is required in order to establish whether or not there is reasonable cause to believe that the child is so treated (or neglected) and
- such assessment is unlikely to be carried out, or be carried out satisfactorily, unless the order is granted.
Steps to be taken before applying for an order
When considering whether an application for a child assessment order is appropriate it is important to recognise that assessment will be the key to decision making about the needs of children and their families.
It will be consistent with good practice and the principles of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 to assess, first and foremost, whether the child is ‘in need’. That assessment will also consider whether one of the child’s needs is to be protected.
In keeping with the principles of the act such an assessment should, wherever possible, be undertaken without the need for a statutory order, in co-operation with parents and taking into account the views of the child.
The duty on local authorities “to cause inquiries to be made” under section 53 of the Act should be explained to parents and the opportunity given for them to explain their point of view. Parents who continue to refuse to allow their child to be seen or assessed should be advised of the options when there are concerns about a child’s safety, including application for a child assessment order and the effects of this and other child protection measures.
A child assessment order is not an emergency order. The decision to apply for it should be planned and only be made after a process of consultation with other agencies. When consideration is being given to the necessity for an application for an assessment order this should be discussed with the Co-ordinator, Children Services.
Before making a decision about the need for a child assessment order, the Co-ordinator will organise a child protection meeting to discuss the matter. Before making a decision about the need for an assessment order the Co-ordinator, Children’s Services should, wherever possible, convene and chair an initial referral discussion to consider the matter. Initial referral discussions should involve representatives of appropriate agencies, in particular health and education staff. Consideration should be given as to whether consultation with the council’s legal services is required at this stage.
The initial referral discussion should consider whether the criteria for a child assessment order are satisfied. It should pay particular attention to whether co-operation may be obtained in any other way and whether, in the circumstances, the child assessment order is the most appropriate measure to be sought.
The initial referral discussion should consider any difficulties likely to be encountered in implementing the order, if granted. In particular it should consider whether assistance may be required from the police/sheriff officers to enforce the order.
Information required for an application
The main determinants of the decision to seek an order will be evidence of:
- the degree of significant harm suspected
- the occurrence or likelihood of this harm
- the extent to which attempts to proceed with parental co-operation have failed.
Where a decision has been made to seek an order, the initial referral discussion should consider the need for the provision of information from each appropriate agency to support the application. This may include, for example, school, or health visitor reports.
Where a decision has been made to seek an order, the initial referral discussion should consider the need for the involvement of relevant staff from each appropriate agency. This may range from the provision of information towards the assessment, to active involvement in the assessment process. The minute of the case discussion should record decisions made in this regard and agencies should be requested to confirm their views and concerns in writing.
The minute should also record the views of the child and how they have been ascertained.
The minute should also record decisions of the initial referral discussion regarding any directions or conditions that may require to be sought in terms of Section 55.
The Co-ordinator, Children Services should also arrange a review case discussion, to convene within seven days before the expiry of the child assessment order.
Procedure for making an application
Following a decision to apply for a child assessment order the Co-ordinator, Children Services should contact the council’s legal services and intimate the intention to make application.
The minute of the Child Protection initial referral discussion and any other relevant information and reports from other agencies must be made available to the council’s appointed solicitor as a matter of urgency. The Co-ordinator, Children Services should consult with the appointed solicitor about whether – and if so which – social work personnel should accompany the solicitor making the application.
The application will be made by the appointed solicitor (including service).
Action following sheriff’s decision
Following the granting of a child assessment order, the order will be served on the appropriate parties by the appointed solicitor. The social worker should notify the Reporter of the granting of a child assessment order as a referral. Notification of the application will not be treated as such although if notification is given a record for information purposes will be kept.
The team leader or social worker should notify the Reporter of the intention to apply for an assessment order.
The team leader will ensure that the assessment, with any conditions attached, is undertaken as a matter of priority and, in any event, before the expiry of an order.
If at any point information available suggests that the conditions for a child protection order or exclusion order are satisfied then the appropriate order should be sought without delay (see procedures for other orders).
Within seven days of the expiry of the order, the Co-ordinator, Children Services should, convene and consider whether along with the team leader whether the order requires to be extended.
The team leader should ensure that the family are notified of the results of the assessment at the earliest opportunity and the action, if any, proposed by social work.