What Is A Section 37 Report Under The Children Act 1989?

emily gordon brown
Emily Gordon BrownLegal Assessment Specialist @ Lawhive
Updated on 31st January 2024

When a parent or guardian decides to bring a child into their home, whether it's through birth, adoption, or fostering, they're promising to always put the child's safety and well-being first. However, what if a court becomes aware of evidence or concerns that suggest otherwise? That's where a Section 37 report under The Children Act 1989 becomes relevant.

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In this article, we'll explain what a Section 37 report is and how it allows the court to make decisions and take action concerning a child's safety and welfare.

What is a Section 37 report?

The Children Act 1989 is a safeguard to make sure children are safe, cared for, and their needs are met. It's the backbone of the rules that guide what children's services do for kids and families, especially those experiencing difficult situations.

Section 37 of this act gives courts the power to ask local authorities, like social services, to look into a child's situation during family legal matters. Usually when there are worries about a child's safety or wellbeing.

If the court is considering making a Care Order or Supervision Order to keep a child safe and make sure they're okay, they might need more information. So, they ask social services to investigate and write up a report, which is called a Section 37 report. The purpose of it is to help the court figure out what actions are best for the child's future.

When should the court order a Section 37 report?

The court should order a Section 37 report when it's worried about a child's well-being during family court proceedings.

The aim is to understand the child's situation to make the right decisions about their future safety and care, often when the court considers issuing a Care Order or Supervision Order for the child.

Typically, a Section 37 report is requested in cases involving disputes over child custody or when there are serious concerns about how a child is being raised, their living conditions, or the environment they're growing up in.

Each case is unique, so the decision to order a Section 37 report depends on specific circumstances and the needs of the child involved.

When can a court make a care or child supervision order?

A court can issue a Care Order or Child Supervision order when necessary to protect a child's welfare, as outlined in the Children Act 1989. These orders are serious legal actions taken by the court to ensure a child's safety and well-being.

Care orders

A Care Order is when a child is taken out of their family home into the care of the local authority. They become responsible for the child and make decisions on important things like where the child lives and goes to school.

The court will issue a Care Order if it believes a child is at risk of significant harm, like abuse or neglect.

Sometimes, a Care Order is needed if ongoing problems are endangering a child's safety. The child's parents may agree to this, either by consent or agreement during court proceedings.

Child supervision orders

If the court is worried about how a child is being raised but thinks they can stay with their family, they might issue a Child Supervision Order. This means the court believes the child needs extra support and supervision while staying with their parents. This is usually done when the parents agree to terms set out by the court.

Before making this decision, the court looks closely at each case and considers what's best for the child, always putting their welfare first.

Who creates a Section 37 report?

When the court needs to understand a child's situation, it tells the local authority to investigate and make a report. The local authority must do this investigation when the court activates Section 37.

The court can tell the local authority to do this if:

  • The child lives where that local authority has power or

  • The local authority is located where problems have happened if the child doesn't live there.

When the court orders a Section 37 report, the social worker in charge has to tell the legal department in writing. They need to include details like the child's name, birthdate, when the report should be done, and the name of the social worker handling the report.

Considerations in a Section 37 report

When creating a Section 37 report, several factors are carefully examined because the findings can have a big impact on the child's life.

First, the report looks at how the child is doing, including their safety and well-being. It also checks if there are any risks to the child, like abuse or neglect, and if the parents can take care of them properly.

The report also considers what the child thinks and feels about their situation, depending on how old they are.

It's important to see if the parents are willing to work with the authorities to make sure the child is safe and well cared for.

The report suggests any action needed to keep the child safe and happy. Everything in the report follows rules and laws about how children should be treated.

Finally, the report has to be finished in a certain amount of time, as decided by the court.

Can you make an application for a Section 37 report?

Normally, parties involved don't formally request a Section 37 report under the Children Act 1989. Instead, it's the court that decides whether to request one.

However, parents, guardians, or others in the case can share their thoughts or worries with the court. If it's best for the child, family law solicitors or other legal representatives can advocate for a Section 37 report.

What is included in a Section 37 report?

A Section 37 report gives the court detailed information about a child involved in family court matters. It's usually put together by the local authority, often social services.

A Section 37 report typically includes:

  • The child's details and where they live now;

  • Family background;

  • What the child thinks and wants about where they live;

  • Schooling and healthcare arrangements;

  • Whether parents can take care of them and provide a safe home;

  • Risks like abuse or unsafe conditions;

  • How much parents cooperate;

  • Recommendations from the social worker, like what needs to be done to keep the child safe;

  • Plans for contact between the child and their parents.

How long does a Section 37 report take?

The court decides how much time is given to finish a Section 37 report when they order it. Usually, local authorities have about eight weeks to complete it from the court making the order.

During this time, social workers and other professionals gather all the information needed about the child's situation.

Sometimes, the court might allow more time if there are good reasons. But this doesn't happen often.

What happens while a Section 37 report is prepared?

When a Section 37 report is being prepared, the social worker named in the court order notifies the legal department in writing. They gather information about the child's living situation, family dynamics, and any immediate concerns.

Interviews are conducted with the child, parents, and others involved, and home visits may happen to check on living conditions.

If there are safety concerns, the child might be moved temporarily. The court might also order supervision or set restrictions on contact.

In urgent cases, an Emergency Protection Order may be issued to keep the child safe temporarily.

What order may be made after a Section 37 report?

A Section 37 report doesn't directly lead to specific orders. Instead, it helps the court gather information to decide what's best for the child's safety and well-being.

Possible orders may include:

  • Care orders;

  • Supervision orders;

  • Child arrangements order;

  • Contact order;

  • Residence order;

  • Prohibited steps order;

  • Specific issue order.

In urgent cases, an emergency protection order may be issued to keep the child safe temporarily.

Changes may also be made to existing orders based on the report's findings and any changes in circumstances.

Is a Section 37 report confidential?

Yes, a Section 37 report is confidential. It's intended for the court's use only and shouldn't be shared with anyone except the parties involved or their legal advisors.

What is the difference between Section 37 and Section 7 reports?

The main differences between a Section 37 report and a Section 7 report lie in their purpose, scope, and legal contexts of use.

Purpose

A Section 37 report is used in family court when there are concerns about a child's welfare, ordered by the court to gather detailed information for decision-making.

A Section 7 report is started by CAFCASS or a social worker to assess a child's needs and help the court decide what's best for them.

Focus

A Section 37 report looks at everything about the child's situation, like where they live and any risks. A Section 7 report focuses on what the child wants and their relationship with each parent.

Preparation

A Section 37 report is done by the local authority, often social workers, as part of their job to protect and support children.

A Section 7 report is done by CAFCASS officers or social workers who work independently to give a fair assessment of what's best for the child.

Timing

A Section 37 report is usually done within eight weeks, as ordered by the court. A Section 7 report is done promptly during family court proceedings to give information for court hearings.

Is a Section 37 report serious?

Yes, a Section 37 report is very serious because it shows the court has concerns about a child's safety and well-being.

The report looks closely at the child's situation, including where they live and their family. It's not a casual look but a thorough investigation.

Social services have to prepare this report, following the law in the Children Act 1989, showing how important it is.

The report helps the court decide what's best for the child's safety and well-being.

This seriousness is clear because the court uses the report to make big decisions about the child's life, like where they'll live or what protection they need.

What recommendations might be made in a Section 37 report?

The recommendations of a Section 37 report aim to help the court make decisions about the child's welfare. These can include suggestions like:

  • Care orders

  • Supervision orders

  • Child arrangements orders

  • Contact orders

  • Temporary living arrangements

  • Emergency protection orders

  • Support services

  • Review of existing orders.

The recommendations of a Section 37 report are personalised to the child and their case, focusing on their welfare and making sure any actions taken or orders made are in their best interests.

Can you challenge a Section 37 report?

You can challenge a Section 37 report within the family court proceedings' legal framework. You can:

  • Dispute specific findings with evidence or arguments;

  • Request further assessment if some aspects were missed;

  • Question witnesses during court hearings;

  • Propose alternative plans for the child;

  • Appeal court decisions based on the report.

Get personalised assistance with Lawhive

For personalised assistance on family law matters, contact our legal assessment team for a chat and free case evaluation.

We can help you understand your next steps, how our family law solicitors can support you, and provide a fixed fee quote for their services should you need support.

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