What is a Section 37 Report in Children Care matter?
Section 37 of the Children Act 1989 empowers the court to give directions to the local authorities to conduct investigations into the circumstances of a child. The Court can exercise this power in private law proceedings under Children Act 1989.
During a family proceeding, if the court finds that the welfare of a child is in question, the Court may consider the appropriateness of issuing a Care Order or Supervision Order and in order to facilitate the proper assessment of the circumstances of the concerned child for whose favour a care order or a supervision order may be made, the court may order for an investigation by and require a report from a specified local authority under the provisions of Section 37 of the Children Act 1989. An investigation under this provision is subject to statutory time limits. In pursuance of such an order by the court, the concerned local authority should investigate and submit a report within eight weeks to the court. Such a report is commonly known as the Section 37 Report under Children Act 1989. An order under section 37 may commonly be preferred in cases involving child custody and child contact arrangements.
When should the Court a Section 37 Report?
This mechanism to investigate the child’s circumstances should be used as a last resort. The Court should not order a Section 37 Report if there is no reason to make a care or supervision order in a purely private law proceeding. The Court’s power under Section 37 should not be used simply to bluff, or put pressure on, recalcitrant parents.
The first prerequisite to making an order for investigation under section 37 is that the proceedings should be any family proceedings in which the welfare of the child is in question. Section 8(3) of the Children Act 1989 provides the statutory meaning of the term ‘family proceedings”.
The said section states that “family proceedings” means any of the following proceedings
(a) under a High Court’s inherent jurisdiction relating to children; and
(b) under the enactments mentioned under section 8(4) which are Parts I, II and IV of Children Act 1989, Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, Schedule 5 to the Civil Partnership Act 2004, Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act 1976, Adoption and Children Act 2002, Domestic Proceedings and Magistrates’ Courts Act 1978, Schedule 6 to the Civil Partnership Act 2004, sections 1 and 9 of the Matrimonial Homes Act 1983, Part III of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984, the Family Law Act 1996, sections 11 and 12 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, and Part 1 of Schedule 2 to the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 other than paragraph 3 of that Schedule.
However, family proceedings do not include proceedings on an application for leave under section 100 (3).
Secondly, the welfare of the child will be the court’s paramount consideration. The interests of the parents will become a concern of the court only to the extent that such interests have some bearing upon the welfare of the child. Therefore, if there is no question of child’s welfare, the court has no authority under section 37 to order an investigation by the local authority into child’s circumstances.
Thirdly, an order under section 37 can be made only if there is appropriateness to order a care or supervision order with respect to the child whose welfare is in question.
When can a court make a care or child supervision order?
According to section 31 (2), a court may only make a care or supervision order if it is satisfied with the following conditions:
(a) A significant harm is suffered by or is likely to be suffered by the child concerned, and
(b) the harm or likelihood of harm is in relation to two factors. Firstly, the child care which is given or likely to be given to him if the order were not made, not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give to him. Secondly, attributable to the child’s being beyond parental control.
Who prepares a Section 37 Report?
According to section 37 of the Children Act 1989, the concerned local authority has to investigate into the child’s circumstance and prepare the report of such investigation. The local authority has no choice but to investigate once a court invokes section 37. The local authority has been defined under subsection 5. The court can give section 37 directions to a local authority only if it falls under any of the following categories;
a) the named local authority is an authority in whose area the concerned child is ordinarily resident, or
b) In cases where the child is not ordinarily resident in the area of a local authority, the local authority must be in an area where the circumstances which led to the court’s direction have occurred.
When a court order under section 37 is made, the named social worker should inform the Legal Department in writing about the name of the child or children and their dates of birth, the time limit within which the report has to be completed and the name of the social worker undertaking the responsibility for the report.
What directions and orders may be made in a Section 37 Report?
The local authority may investigate the child’s circumstances and suggest to the court whether care or supervisory order should be made. Upon the report, the court may make care or supervisory orders or any other direction the it may think appropriate.
The meaning of a care order is given under section 31(11) of the Children Act 1989 as an order under section 30 (1) (a). It also includes an interim care order made under section 38. A care order is subject to section 105 (1). Any child under the age of 17 can be made the subject of a care order, with the exception of a 16-year-old who is married.
Similarly, a supervision order is an order under section 30 (1) (b) and also includes an interim supervision order made under section 38. According to section 31(1), an order putting the child under the supervision of a designated local authority is called a supervision order. The legal provisions governing the ‘supervision’ is partly enumerated under section 35 and partly under Schedule 3 of the 1989 Act. Under Section 35, a supervisor under a supervision order should advise, assist and befriend the supervised child. Since the terms such as advise, assist and befriend are not defined or regulated by the Act, the social worker in such instances does have almost unlimited discretion in carrying out his duty of supervising the child.
As provided under section 38 of the Children Act, 1989 court is empowered to make an interim care order or if required an interim supervision order where an order for investigation is made under section 37. While making such interim care order or an interim supervision order, the court should take into account the grounds provided under section 31(2) which are mentioned hereinabove.
What is in a section 37 Report?
The report should have detailed about the background of the matter and the legal proceedings. It should mention the history of Children's Services and other agency interventions in the matter till then. The profile of each child should be clearly provided. The Report should contain the profile of each adult who is a party to the present proceedings. The response of the resident family members (or thise with parental responsibility) to the current circumstances must be recorded.
The Report should give a summary of the social worker's assessment regarding the circumstances of the children. The social worker must provide his / her considerations regarding the welfare checklist as in Section 1 Subsection 3 of the Children Act 1989. The social worker's may consider the no order principle, and if the social worker thinks that there should be no order by the court, then this must be recorded with justifiable reasoning. The social worker should give conclusions and recommendations with reasons.
The most important consideration of the local authority who prepares the Report is the welfare of the children. The object of a Section 37 Report is to assess whether any protective order should be made by the court considering the circumstances of the concerned child. While undertaking the investigation under a Section 37 order, the concerned local authority should keep in mind the following questions:
1. Whether the local authority should apply for a care order or for a supervision order with respect to the child?
2. Whether the local authority should provide services or assistance for the child or his family?
3. Is it necessary to take any other action with respect to the child?
The concerned local authority is required to inform the court in case where they decide to not to apply for a care order or supervision order. They should also record their reasons for arriving at such conclusion. Furthermore, they should provide the details regarding any service or assistance which they have provided, or intend to provide, for the child and his family. If they have taken or propose to take any other action with respect to the child, they should also inform the same to the court.
Moreover, the local authority should consider the appropriateness to review the case at a later date if, after investigation or review, they decide to not to apply for a care order or supervision order. Where the authority finds reason for such a future review of the case, the date on which that review is to begin should be thereby determined.
Is a Section 37 Report Confidential?
The Report under section 37 contains a considerable amount of confidential information of the child concerned, his/her parents and other relevant people. The Report is not conclusive material until the court confirms the same. The local authority can only comment on the circumstances of the child or suggest protective orders.
The final authority to decide the issues conclusively is the court itself. Therefore, any disclosure of the information contained in the Report to the public would amount to irreparable injury to the reputation of the child and his/her family members. Furthermore, the family proceedings are purely private proceedings of which details are not made available publicly.
It is inevitable to maintain confidentiality in Family Law matters. It is essential to safeguard the privacy of those who turn to the court for protection or for the resolution of intimate family disputes. Hence, the confidentiality of the information entailed in the Report as a result of the investigation under section 37 order must be kept by the local authority concerned.
Plesae do NOTE that this article is NOT legal advise and should NOT be treated as Legal advise.