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Supervision Orders: Recommendations to Achieve Best Practice by the Public Law Working Group

Articles, News | Tue 16th May, 2023

The Public Law Working Group’s supervision order sub-group was established to consider how supervision orders could be made more robust and effective. Their final report was published in April 2023. A variety of professionals with considerable experience in child protection and family justice formed the membership of the working group. 

Core Recommendations

Five core recommendations were made: 

  1. Each local authority’s children’s services department implements the Best Practice Guidance.  
  1. Supervision orders are only made when all of the matters set out in the supervision order template within the Best Practice Guidance have been considered and addressed.  
  1. Each children’s services department adopts and completes the self-audit questions within the Best Practice Guidance in respect of every supervision order made in its favour.  
  1. Each children’s services department considers developing good practice tools to embed the Best Practice Guidance.  
  1. In light of the report and recommendations of the Independent Care Review commissioned by HM Government, HM Government to commit to provide the necessary resources to local authorities to enable them to adopt and implement the Best Practice Guidance to the fullest and most effective extent possible.  

The Best Practice Guidance is included within the report at Appendix C. The key features of the guidance are the three following overarching principles and six core principles, which should be applied whenever a supervision order is proposed or may be made. The principles should also apply where proceedings conclude with ‘no order’ being made.  

The Best Practice Guidance also highlights that the court should alert all parties in a case to the need to read and apply the six core principles.  

Overarching principles: 

  • The child’s welfare is paramount.  
  • Children are best looked after within their families, with their parents playing a full part in their lives, unless compulsory intervention in the family life is necessary. 
  • Any interference in family life should be necessary and proportionate. That means, action taken should be no more than is needed to achieve the aim of keeping the child safe and well.  

Six Core Principles: 

  • Partnership and co-production with children and families. 
  • Multi-agency, multi-disciplinary working.  
  • Clear, tailored plans including to address ongoing risks, and the findings and conclusions of the court in care proceedings.  
  • Resource clarity.  
  • Formal, robust review.  
  • Accountability.  

Long-term change

In addition to the core recommendations, the report has considered the need for long-term change. Ultimately these recommendations will require legislative changes to be implemented and/or the approval of additional public spending by the Government. These are: 

  1. Amending the Children Act 1989 to provide a statutory basis for supervision support plans (akin to s31A, CA 1989 in respect of care plans).  
  1. Placing local authorities under a statutory duty to provide support and services under a supervision order.  
  1. Amending statutory guidance to reflect the recommendations in this report and the Best Practice Guidance.  
  1. HM Government undertaking or funding an external body to identify all supervision orders made by the Family Court to support family reunification and collect data on a) the supervision plan at the end of proceedings, b) the implementation of the plan during the life of the supervision order and c) change of placement or return to court for the children and their parents up to two years after the end of the supervision order.  

Analysis from Local Authorities on the efficacy of supervision orders  

Practice leaders and principal social workers were questioned on the workings of supervision orders. Local authorities across England and Wales were surveyed. There was broad agreement for the reform of supervision orders by the respondents. Some of the common responses were:  

  1. That supervision orders should be more robust or needed “more teeth.”  
  1. That they are largely ineffective and amount to little more than Child in Need planning and were not reflective of the level of risk to the child.  
  1. Supervision orders provide no real security for the child, they can have minimal impact due to the low application of visits made by some local authorities in engaging the family, or with planned interventions.  
  1. There are no consequences in failing to adhere to the orders and are “only effective when the family work openly with the local authority under the supervision order.” Furthermore, it can be difficult taking cases back to court.  

This group of respondents were clear that supervision orders should not be seen as a safety net. That there needed to be recognition that the threshold criteria had been crossed and a supervision order should not be granted or perceived as a ‘step down’ order when a care order is not granted. Many considered that there should be a review(s) of the supervision plan and a record of active decision making as to whether an application to extend the order is required and is in the child’s best interests. This could be by way of a formal review process with independent oversight. It was suggested that an IRO could be allocated to oversee local authority intervention, much like the role of a LAC IRO.  

The parents’ response  

Of the parents that contributed to the working group, nearly all felt that the supervision order could work better. A key determinant of their experience of the supervision order was the relationship between them and the social workers. Trust was identified as a critical issue. Providing guidance, practical help, and being knowledgeable about the issues parents were facing and fighting their corner were equally important. Multi-agency work was reported to be uncommon but was considered especially useful when it did happen. Many parents felt that the support for their family outlined in the care plan, or a support need that emerged during the supervision order was not delivered.  

By contrast, when considering the efficacy of the implementation of a care order at home, most parents felt that their family had been helped by this. Parents with experience of both supervision orders and care orders at home preferred the latter. The rationale for this was that it made parents feel safe and confident that the order would be delivered because of the legal requirements, it provided a consistent delivery framework and support, and services were more likely to be delivered.  

Some of the parents’ recommendations from the focus groups were to ensure continuity of personnel, particularly between pre-proceedings and care proceedings. That care proceedings need to be more humane and understandable, and that they should involve an ‘independent parent supporter’ to provide legal, emotional, and practical support from pre-proceedings to the end of the order.  

These findings indicate that there is a consensus amongst parents and professionals that the supervision order should remain but must be strengthened.  


The Best Practice Guidance had been recommended to the President of the Family Division to be endorsed and published. This guidance is endorsed by the principal stakeholders in the child protection and family justice systems. It is anticipated that the implementation of the recommendations and the guidance will lead to a better outcome for the children and young people who are involved with local authority children’s services departments and whom are the subject of care proceedings.  

It is clear from the report that the key to the success of a supervision order is complete clarity about the support and services the local authority will provide to the family and the expectations of the professionals about what the parents or carers and/or children are to achieve or tasks that should be undertaken. A cogent and comprehensive supervision support plan is the ultimate vehicle to achieve this, which should include that periodic reviews of the operation and effectiveness of the order are to be undertaken by the local authority.  

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