Parents critical of helpfulness of supervision orders, enquiry finds

Parents have expressed 'mixed' views on the helpfulness of supervision orders, with the relationship between parents and the social workers a 'key determinant' to their success, a report has found.

09/05/22

Parents critical of helpfulness of supervision orders, enquiry finds

Social workers are the least helpful professionals during court proceedings for supervision orders, parents have told a Government enquiry.

The enquiry also found that, more broadly, the relationship between parents and their social workers was a key determinant in parents’ experiences of the whole process.

The review is the first investigation into supervision orders since the 1989 Children Act, and was set up in response to concerns, raised in 2019, about their efficacy.

Isabelle Trowler, Chief Social Worker for Children and Families in England and Wales, was among those raising concerns. She said that while “the vast majority of decisions taken to initiate care proceedings were reasonable, the question is whether or not they were always necessary.”

She said that more children should be diverted away from court proceedings, more social work carried out under the ‘no order’ principle, and that more sophisticated services should be given.

This latest report, commissioned by the Department for Education, asked parents subject to such orders about their experiences and views. Most said that they felt that the care order had helped them. Parents with experience of both supervision and care orders said that they preferred care orders. This was mainly because the care orders made them feel safe and confident that the order would be delivered. Care orders provided a consistent delivery framework and were more likely to bring support and services.

Views on how helpful the supervision orders had been were ‘mixed’, the report says. “Nearly all the parents felt that the supervision order could work better.”

Despite their criticisms in relation to court proceedings, parents mostly said that overall, they had a positive relationship with their social workers. “The relationship between parents and the social workers was a key determinant of the supervision order. Trust was a critical issue,” the report says.

“Providing guidance, practical help, being knowledgeable about the issues parents were dealing with, and fighting their corner were equally important.”

Most praised their children’s nurseries, schools and health visitors for their support and arranging services, and although multi-agency working was uncommon, those who had experienced it said it was very useful.

Support for the wider family, when it was identified in the care plan, was often not delivered. Parents facing domestic abuse were critical of the lack of support from children’s services: it was described as limited to referral to courses on co-parenting and the Freedom Project.

Family conferences were rare and sometimes relatives helped when children’s services had not given the support needed.

Parents said they needed to be listened to more, and needed additional support and collaboration prior to proceedings. Directions, advice, and information – especially about timescales and expectations – needed to be made clearer.

They also wanted an independent parent supporter to give legal, emotional and practical support throughout the entire process.

Continuity of personnel was another key recommendation. Parents said that overall, care proceedings needed to be more humane and understandable, including information leaflets were written from their perspective. Those from ethnic minorities felt that cultural sensitivity was lacking during pre-proceedings and the court experience.

Support was often not delivered too when it had been specified in a care plan, nor did it follow when the need was identified during the period of a supervision order.

Care orders were viewed as more positively – “most parents felt that their family had been helped by the care order at home.”

However, some felt that the care order put restrictions which were unclear to them. “Contact arrangements were singled out as a particularly difficult area.”

Parents wanted to supervision orders to be reformed to provide more consistency and support, to offer intensive services for parents and be subject to a fully independent review.

Care orders needed to be retained but with a set end point.

Domestic abuse services needed major reform in relation to the child protection and family justice system, including more training, more services and a change of culture to avoid re-victimisation.

Proposals in the report for strengthening supervision orders include
- DfE guidance underpinning a framework of best practice
- Money from central government for a national fund to enhance support, services and funding or supervision orders
- Prioritising access to advice on housing and benefits, “given evidence of the prevalence of these issues amongst families with a supervision order and the ham associated with housing insecurity and poverty”

Parents in the study who had experience of ordinary care proceedings and of the Family Drug and Alcohol Court felt FDAC offered a better approach – the report says that a task force to review and incorporate elements of FDAC into mainstream care proceedings should be set up.

The problems identified in relation to orders in cases involving domestic abuse need to be addressed though a multidisciplinary training strategy. Separately it calls for an action plan to improve information for domestic abuse survivors in both public and private law proceedings.

Finally, the report concludes, parents see a positive future for supervision orders. Parents want active support and tailored services so their families can stay together safely.

“Paradoxically this study suggests that families are more likely to get this support and services delivered within a consistent framework under a care order at home than under a supervision order.”

Official guidance is that “a care order should not be used as a vehicle to achieve the provision of support and services after the conclusion of proceedings”. But the report argues that without successful reform of supervision orders, “the risk is that more children will end up being removed permanently.”

Read the full ‘Supporting families after care proceedings’ report: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/supporting-families-after-care-proceedings

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