An assessment order can be granted where the child is believed to be ‘at risk’. There is a broad discretion for the Court in what the assessment order may contain. Generally, the assessment order may:
- authorise the examination and assessment of the child;
- authorise the Secretary to require any person to answer questions or provide a written report in relation to the child;
- grant custody of the child to the Secretary;
- any other order the court considers appropriate.
An assessment order has effect for a period not exceeding four weeks (s22(4)). It can be extended for a further eight weeks (s22(5)(a)) if there is to be a family conference or four weeks in any other case (s22(5)(b)). The interim assessment order, in addition to the possibilities listed above, may also order the guardian of the child to take steps specified in the order to secure the proper care and protection of the child, or direct that a person specified in the order be allowed or not be allowed access to the child or to reside with the child.
The following are the sort of assessment orders used:
- a ‘requirement’ or ‘warrant’ leading to an initial assessment order lasting for a period of 120 hours;
- an assessment order not exceeding four weeks which is granted by the court so that a child can stay in the care of someone other than their guardian if further assessment is required;
- an extension of the assessment order once only for a further four weeks or up to eight weeks if a family group conference is to be convened.
When the Order is opposed
Sometimes the application for an assessment order will be opposed by a guardian or parent. In such circumstances the court will determine what is best for the child based on submissions heard from both sides. During this time, the court may grant an interim order. This order could have the same or other conditions so that the child remains safe until all submissions have been heard and a decision reached.