Child Care Terminology

Part 4


Sarah’s law – A law giving an individual the right to ask the police to check whether a person having contact with a child/children poses a risk to the children.

Schedule of expectations/written agreements – If you do sign any kind of document that sets out in writing what is expected of you before the final hearing, do be careful to read it carefully and only sign if you think that you are going to be able to stick to its terms. If you don’t go on to do what you agreed to do in the document, this is usually a big source of concern to social workers and the court. So if what is expected of you seems unreasonable or just not possible to achieve, make sure you speak up at the time or tell your lawyer.

Section 47 enquiry – A comprehensive child protection investigation carried out by Children’s Services. The assessment will look at the child’s developmental needs, relevant family and environmental factors and the parenting capacity of the main carers for the child.

Significant harm – s.31(10) states “where the question of whether harm suffered by the child is significant turns on the child’s health or development, his health or development shall be compared with that which could reasonably be expected of a similar child.”

Social worker – Social workers support individuals and their families through difficult times and ensure that vulnerable people, including children and adults, are safeguarded from harm. Their role is to help in improve outcomes in people’s lives. They maintain professional relationships and act as guides and advocates.

Solicitor – A lawyer who advises people on the law and can represent them in legal proceedings.

Special guardianship – Special Guardianship is a Court order that places a child or a young person to live with someone other than their parents. The Special Guardian will get higher parental responsibility than other persons with parental responsibility for the child.

Special guardianship allowance – A special guardian may be entitled to a special guardianship allowance provided by the Local Authority to contribute towards special care or help with accommodation and maintenance costs. Where a special guardianship allowance is being agreed it is advisable to obtain legal advice from a solicitor and to consult the local authority policy.

Special guardianship order – A Special Guardianship Order (SGO) is an order of the court under the Children Act 1989 which grants the holder(s) parental responsibility over a child until they reach the age of 18. This enables the special guardian(s) to make day-to-day decisions on behalf of the child, for example in relation to their education.

The making of a Special Guardianship Order does not extinguish the parental responsibility of the birth parents; however, the special guardian is only required to consult with them in exceptional circumstances. This enables the special guardian to make unilateral decisions in relation to issues such as medical treatment and choice of religion. There are a number of important decisions that a special guardian cannot make without consultation, namely:-

  • Changing the child’s surname
  • Placing the child for adoption
  • Granting parental responsibility to a father or step parent
  • Granting the child permission to marry
  • Consenting to the child being sterilised


An SGO may be sought in relation to both looked after children i.e. those under the care of the Local Authority and non-looked after children; for example, those children in the care of relatives. Special guardianship status is best described as a halfway house between residence and adoption orders in respect of the level of responsibility given to the non-parent carer and  the perception of the permanency of the placement; something of particular importance to the child. Foster carers may have provided permanent placements to children and may wish to continue to do so without the direct involvement of the Local Authority. This may positively benefit the child as they will grow up outside of the care system.

Supervised contact – Contact that takes place between a parent and a child where another person is present to oversee this contact.

Supervision order – Where a child is at risk of significant harm, a Supervision Order can be made for the Local Authority to advise, assist and befriend the child. The Local Authority will not acquire Parental Responsibility for the child.

Vacated – When a hearing is cancelled or not effective, this can be either by the consent of both of the parties or the court. In cases involving children, hearings are often vacated as the parties have been able to reach an agreement outside of court.