Applications for residence or contact orders are usually between private individuals, under s8 Children Act 1989. Where someone seeks an order in respect of a child who is in the care of the local authority it will be considered a public law matter.
In private law cases the child is not a party to the proceedings unless there are particular circumstances that make the case complex. The court can request a welfare report under s7 Children Act 1989, either from the local authority or from a Children and Family Reporter who is an officer appointed by Cafcass. The report will usually inform the court of the child's wishes and feelings, but the officer will make a recommendation based on what they think is in the child's best interests rather than just report on the child's wishes.
In some circumstances the court may order that the child is made a party to the proceedings. A Childre's Guardian (who again is an officer of Cafcass) is appointed to represent the child in the proceedings and the guardian will appoint a solicitor. If the child and Guardian do not agree on what recommendations to make to the court and the child is of sufficient age and understanding, they will be able to instruct a solicitor directly to represent their views and the Guardian will present their own views to the court.