There has been a dearth of interest in supervision orders in policy and practice. This problem has been compounded by lack of basic information on the numbers of children who are subject to a supervision order either as a standalone option or when used in combination with other orders such as special guardianship.

The main aim of this study is to address this gap and to find out how supervision orders contribute to placement permanency, safeguarding, and child outcomes.

The study is funded by the Nuffield Foundation (May 2015-March 2018).

There are 3 elements to the work:-

  • an analysis of the national evidence on trends over time in the use of supervision orders compared to 5 permanency orders. See our briefing paper no.1 and to the 2 family law articles [1, 2].
  • to provide national evidence on cases that return to court for fresh s.31 care proceedings following the making of a supervision order. The work comprises a comparison of rates of return to court for supervision orders supporting reunification or other orders (special guardianship or residence/child arrangement orders) with rates of return for care, care and placement and orders of no order. This is the first time that national data has ever been collected on the disruption rates of supervision orders.
  • Intensive work with 5 local authority sites covering the North of England and London areas.

The national data for the first two elements is derived from the Cafcass administrative Case Management System (CMS), with the most recent data derived from the Cafcass Electronic Case Management System (ECMS). In this project we use the period 2007-2016 as our observational window to provide the crucial longitudinal perspective. The primary unit of analysis in our study is the child’s s.31 set of proceedings. This includes a s.31 application (care, supervision and extension of supervision) and may include other additional applications such as residence/child arrangement orders (live with), special guardianship or placement and which leads to one or more final orders. By using the child’s set of proceedings as the main unit of analysis we are able to track individual legal outcomes for children and to track their individual pathways over time.

Methods for the third element include:-

  • tracking supervision order and special guardianship cases over time
  • focus groups with frontline staff, managers, lawyers and independent reviewing officers
  • interviews with primary carers and children.

The study has recently received additional funding. It will enable further work in the 5 local authority sites to collect standalone special guardianship order cases and compare them with those where there is an attached supervision order. This new element will build on the national comparison and shed light on reasons for the making of an attached SO to special guardianship and the extent to which they are contributing to better outcomes.

The final phase of the study will be to synthesise the findings and to hold focus groups with policy-makers and practitioners and service users to inform the final recommendations.

The findings are expected to inform recommendations on whether changes are needed in the regulatory framework, the collection of data by government on supervision children and to identify transferable best practice lessons.

The study is led by Professor Judith Harwin and co-investigators are Dr Bachar Alrouh and Professor Karen Broadhurst.

It is supported by the President of the Family Division, Cafcass, the DfE and ADCS.