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Children on standalone supervision orders most likely to see return to court for new proceedings

Children on a standalone supervision order have the highest (20%) probability of a return to court for new S31 proceedings within five years compared to the five other types of order, research has found.

A study by the Centre for Child & Family Justice Research, The contribution of supervision orders and special guardianship to children’s lives and family justice, also found that children who were aged less than five years old when placed on a supervision order were significantly more likely to return to court for new S31 proceedings than older children.

Children on a standalone special guardianship order meanwhile have a 5% probability of new S31 proceedings within five years of the order being made. “In contrast to children on standalone supervision orders, it is the older children who were more likely to return to court than those aged under five years old,” the study found.

The researchers said the trend of attaching a supervision order to a special guardianship order peaked at 35% of all special guardianship orders made in 2013/14, and despite a small drop to 30% in 2016/17, remains substantially above 2010/11 levels (18%). A supervision order attached to a special guardianship order increases the likelihood of new S31 proceedings within five years from 5% to 7%.

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Children placed on a residence order/child arrangements order were meanwhile more likely to have an attached supervision order than a standalone residence/child arrangements order. “The risk of new S31 proceedings when a supervision order is attached approximately doubles over five years to 13% compared to 7% for children on a standalone residence order/child arrangements order.”

The study also found that since 2014/15 the likelihood of ‘family order’ cases returning to court for new S31 proceedings had accelerated. “Cases that concluded with a supervision order, a special guardianship order, or child arrangements order all had a higher probability of returning to court within two years for new S31 proceedings than cases that were concluded before that date.”

Other key findings from the study, which was funded by the Nuffield Foundation, were:

  • There has been a major increase in the number of children subject to S31 proceedings over time. The number of children has risen from 11,319 in 2007/08 to 25,092 in 2016/2017.
  • Between 2007/08 and 2016/17, only 6% of children subject to S31 proceedings had an application for a supervision order.
  • However, far more supervision orders were made at the conclusion of proceedings, than were applied for. Of all orders made at the conclusion of proceedings between 2010/11 and 2016/17, 14% were standalone supervision orders, 6% were supervision orders that were attached to residence orders/child arrangement orders (live with), and 5% were attached to special guardianship orders. Most supervision orders resulted from care applications rather than supervision applications. Between 2010/11 and 2016/17, 88% of all supervision orders made to support family reunification resulted from a care application.
  • Although the numbers of standalone supervision orders supporting family reunification have risen from 1,921 in 2010/11 to 3,528 in 2016/17, there has only been a small increase in their proportional use (from 14% in 2010/11 to 15% in 2016/17) due to the general increase in all S31 proceedings.
  • In contrast, there has been a marked rise in the use of special guardianship orders as a legal outcome of S31 proceedings, which increased from 1,566 (11%) to 4,018 (17%) during the same period. The proportion of children subject to placement orders fell from 22% to 16% during that time, despite the increase in the number of these orders from 3,125 in 2010/11 to 3,806 in 2016/17.
  • Only 1% of the children subject to special guardianship orders had an application for this order in their S31 proceedings, while 57% of the children subject to placement orders had an application for that order in the proceedings. “This is important because it shows that the majority of special guardianship orders in the context of S31 proceedings are made by the court acting of its own motion rather than upon the application of a prospective special guardian," the researchers said.
  • There are marked regional disparities in the use of supervision orders. Over time, the North West court circuit has generally made less use of supervision orders than the five other court circuits. These variations were also demonstrated across the 40 Designated Family Judge (DFJ) areas in England.

The analysis was based on a total of 175,280 individual children’s records, drawn from 101,759 cases of S31 proceedings that started between 2007/08 and 2016/17. The analysis of legal outcomes was possible for 140,059 children in 81,758 cases that concluded between 2010/11 and 2016/17.

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