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Children's care jargon buster

There are lots of rules involved in making sure children are properly cared for. We know it can be hard to remember what everything means, so you can find out on this page. If you're still not sure, you can ask your social worker if you have one.


The carer - The person taking care of the child. They are not the child's parent. There may be more than one carer, for example a married couple.

The child - The child who is unable to live with their parents. This may include more than one child, for example siblings.

The parents - The child's parents, who are unable to take care of the child. This includes families with only one parent.

The council - Middlesbrough Council. This includes social workers, children's lawyers, and other professionals who work with carers, parents, and children.


Care order


If the council wants to take a child into care to keep them safe, they cannot do it instantly. There is a legal process they must follow. Starting this legal process is called starting 'care proceedings'.

The first step is to apply for an interim care order (ICO).

The council can apply for an interim care order by going to the family court. They must prove that the child is being harmed, or is in danger of being harmed, and that being taken into care will stop it happening.

If the judge agrees, the child will go into the council's care for up to 8 weeks. They become a 'child in care' or 'looked after child'.

The council can ask for the interim care order to be extended for up to 28 days while care proceedings are going on. They can do this as many times as they need to.

The next step is to apply for a care order (CO).

If the judge agrees to the care order, the child will stay in the council's care. There is no time limit on how long a care order can last. The child will stay in the council's care until:

  • they can go back to their parents
  • another order is made to say who they should live with
  • they turn 18

While an interim care order or care order is in place, the parents share parental responsibility with the council. But the council can make decisions without including the parents, if they think it's in the child's best interests.



When the council does an assessment, it can include different checks. These can include:

  • finding out if the person is known to the police or has a criminal record (DBS check)
  • checks on the person, their partner, and any other members of the household with council departments, for example, Children's Services, Adult Social Care, and the Youth Justice Service if relevant
  • medical checks with the person's doctor
  • checks on the person's home and pets, safer caring, including unannounced visits to check on the child and carer at home
  • getting references and information from the person's birth children, family, friends, employer, and any ex-partners

These checks are used to make sure the child will be safe with the carer. It's a legal requirement for the council to do them.

The council will explain which checks they need to do. It will depend on which assessment they're doing.

Interim care order


See care order for more information.

Levels of need


Every family is different, and all families need different amounts of help to be healthy and safe. The council offers different support depending on what a child's needs are, and how well their parents can meet those needs.

The level of support a family gets can change if their problems get better or worse.

Early help

This is the lowest level of support. Early help can stop small problems in a family becoming big problems. The council will work with the family to look at what's going well, what's not going well, and what the family can do to improve things.

Child in need

A child in need is one who needs special help from the council to be as healthy and well-developed as other children their age.

Children with disabilities are also classed as children in need.

The council will do a child in need assessment to find out what the child's needs are, and how the council can make sure those needs are met.

Child protection

A child protection plan is used to protect a child who is at risk of harm.

The plan covers things like:

  • what can be done to reduce the risk of the child being harmed
  • the child's needs
  • the parents' needs
  • how the council will help the parents to keep the child safe
  • what will happen if the parents do not follow the plan

Public Law Outline (PLO)

Public Law Outline is the last stage before public court proceedings.

At this stage, a child protection plan is in place, but the child is still at risk of harm. The council are thinking about taking the child into care.

The council will have a PLO meeting with the parents. The council will explain what they're worried about, what help they've given so far, and what the parents need to do next. The parents will be able to have their say too.

If the parents still cannot keep the child safe, the council will start public court proceedings.

Public court proceedings

The council will go to the family court and ask the judge to decide whether the child should be taken into care to keep them safe.

See public court proceedings for more information.



When the council shares parental responsibility with the child's parents, there are lots of meetings to make sure the child is doing okay.

Children looked after (CLA) review

The parents, the carer, and professionals meet to look at the child's needs, and what support the child (and the parents and the carer) might need.

Professionals can include people from the council, the child's school, the child and adolescent mental health service (CAMHS), and medical professionals.

The meeting is run by the child's independent reviewing officer (IRO). An IRO is a social care professional who is not involved in the child's care, but has to make sure everyone is doing their best for the child.

Care team meetings (CTM)

The parents, the carer, and professionals meet to see how the child is doing. These are smaller meetings which are held between CLA reviews.

Care team meetings are attended by the same people who attend the CLA review. The independent reviewing officer (IRO) does not attend CTM.


Every child has an appointment with a paediatrician to make sure they're healthy, and check if they need any support (like dental help, mental health support, etc.).

Personal education plan (PEP) meeting

A personal education plan (PEP) supports a child in care's education. It includes how they’re doing, and what teachers and carers need to do to support them.

The PEP meeting is attended by the child, the carer, the child’s school, and professionals from the council, including a fostering social worker and educational psychologist. They look at how the child is doing, and make sure the PEP is still meeting their needs.

Parental responsibility


Someone with parental responsibility is legally responsible for taking care of a child and making decisions in their best interests.

This means protecting the child and giving them a home.

It also includes decisions like:

  • where they live
  • where they go to school
  • agreeing to their medical treatment
  • how they are disciplined

More than one person can have parental responsibility. Find out more about who has parental responsibility.

Anyone who has parental responsibility can make day-to-day decisions for the child. This means things like what they eat, what they wear, and how they spend their free time. Bigger decisions, like where the child lives and goes to school, need to be agreed by everyone who has parental responsibility.

Private court proceedings


Proceedings means a court case.

Private court proceedings means the case is between family members and relatives. The council is not involved.

The child's carer can ask the family court for a special guardianship order (SGO) or child arrangement order (CAO). This gives the carer parental responsibility, so they can make decisions about the child.

The family court judge will ask the council to do a parenting assessment to see if the carer can take care of the child and meet their needs.

Public court proceedings


Proceedings means a court case.

Public court proceedings means the council has taken the case to court because they're worried the parents cannot take care of the child. The council will ask the family court judge for permission to take the child into care, and explain how it will keep the child safe.

The law says that the court proceedings should not take any longer than 26 weeks.

The council will do an assessment of the parents, and anyone caring for the child. The council will also write a care plan, which explains where the child is living and who is caring for them.

The judge will make the final decision about who the child will live with, or if they can go back to their parents.

Regulation 24 assessment


Regulation 24 is part of the law on caring for children and keeping them safe. It means a family member or friend can take care of a child temporarily, but they must be assessed first.

If the child is in care under a S20, ICO, or CO, the council must do an assessment of anyone who wants to take care of them. The assessment looks at whether they can care for the child and keep them safe. If they're approved, they become temporarily approved as a connected foster carer.

The child can stay with the connected foster carer for up to 16 weeks. During this time, the council must do a full assessment. The placement can be extended by up to 8 weeks if needed.

Once the assessment is done, it will be discussed at the council's fostering panel to decide if the connected foster carer can keep taking care of the child. The council will also submit a copy of the assessment to the court.

The connected foster carer will have their own social worker to give them support and advice.

Section 17


Section 17 is part of the law on caring for children and keeping them safe. It means councils must help children whose families need extra support to keep them safe and healthy.

The council must do an assessment to look at a child's needs, and what help the family needs to meet those needs. This could mean getting help from the council's Early Help team, or other services, like charities, the police and probation service, or help with housing, drugs and alcohol, or domestic abuse.

The parents must agree to the support, and work with the council's Children's Services team to get that support.

Section 20 (or S20)


Section 20 is an agreement between the council and the child's parents.

The parents agree for the child to go into the council's care. They become a 'child in care' or 'looked after child'.

While the S20 is in place, the child will live with friends or family, a foster carer, or in a residential home.

The parents share parental responsibility with the council. This means both the parents and the council can make day-to-day decisions about the child's life. Big decisions need to be agreed by both the parents and the council.

The parents can contact the council and ask to end the S20 at any time. This means the child will go back to living with their parents.

If the child will not be safe with their parents, the council will go to court and apply for parental responsibility for the child. If the council gets parental responsibility, the child will stay in care, and the council will look after them.

Section 47


Section 47 is part of the law on caring for children and keeping them safe. It means councils must help children who are being harmed, or are likely to be harmed.

The council will meet with different people to find out what's happening. This includes the child's parents, and the child themselves, if they're old enough to talk to someone. They'll also talk to other people in the child's life, like their teacher and doctor.

The council will also do an assessment to find out what the child's needs are, and check if the parents can meet those needs. Depending on what the assessment says, the amount of support the family gets might change.

Parents are legally required to work with the council to get the support they need.

Viability assessment


If a child cannot keep living with their parents, the council will look for someone to care for them. This carer will be a family member or friend.

If they agree to look after the child, the council will do an assessment of the carer and anyone living in their home. This is called a viability assessment. You can find out more about what the assessment includes in the 'checks' section.

If the result is positive, the carer will be approved to take care of the child.

If the result is negative, the carer will not be approved to take care of the child. The council will look for someone else to care for the child.

Whatever the result is, the council will give the carer a copy of the assessment.