Child assessment orders

What is a child assessment order?

A local authority (LA) can apply for a child assessment order when leading an investigation into the welfare, health and development of a child. Social workers, for instance, may be sufficiently concerned about a child to want a medical, psychiatric or social work report to be carried out – but the parents may refuse to allow this. In those circumstances, an application for a child assessment order may be appropriate.

A child assessment order is used to assess a child’s circumstances over a short period of time (up to 7 days). It might be the first step when an LA is considering issuing a section 8 court order, whether this be a child arrangements order, specific issue order or supervision order. However, in practice, child assessment orders are rarely used.

Who can apply for a child assessment order to be carried out and on what grounds?

Under section 43(1) of the Children Act 1989, the court can make a child assessment order on the LA’s application if it is satisfied that:

  • the LA has reasonable cause to suspect that the child is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm;
  • an assessment of the child’s welfare, health and development and treatment they receive day-to-day, is needed to allow the applicant to make a decision as to whether or not the child in question is suffering or likely to suffer any harm in the future.

A child assessment order would be most appropriate where the harm suffered by the child is long term and collective – rather than in circumstances where harm is sudden and severe.

Why would a court not make a child assessment order?

A court should not make a child assessment order if it is satisfied there are reasonable grounds for making an emergency protection order with regards to the child in question, and that it should make such an emergency protection order instead of a child assessment order.

A court can treat the LA’s application for a child assessment order as an application for an emergency protection order.

What are the effects of a child assessment order?

Once a child assessment order has been granted by the courts, the child must then be made available for the purposes of, for instance, a medical or social work assessment. However, the person in authority named in the order must comply with any directions in the order in relation to the child’s assessment.

If the child concerned is of sufficient understanding to make an appropriate informed decision, they can refuse to submit to a medical or psychiatric examination (or other assessment). However, the court can still override a child’s decision not to consent to treatment, if it believes it is necessary for the child’s welfare for the appropriate tests or assessments to be carried out.

How long does child assessment order last?

An order can last up to seven days from the date specified in the order. There is no power to extend its duration. This means LAs have very little time to make their enquiries, so must be well prepared before the commencing date in order to obtain all the appropriate information.

No further application for a child assessment order can be made within six months of the disposal of the previous child assessment order, without the court’s permission.