If a Local Authority believes that a child has suffered or is at risk of suffering significant harm it may decide that it is necessary to take the child into care to help keep them safe, by applying for a Care or Emergency Protection Order.
Emergency Protection Orders (EPO) can be granted under s. 47 of the children Act 1989. An order lasts up to 8 days and is capable of being extended once for no more than 7 days.
An EPO has the effect of granting the Local Authority parental responsibility for the child and allows them to remove the child from their parents’ care.
The court will make an EPO where it is satisfied that there is a reasonable cause to believe that the child is likely to suffer significant harm if not removed into local authority accommodation.
An alternative is that the alleged abuser is required to leave the home, so that it is not necessary to remove the child from home.
If Children’s Services conclude that the child requires long-term protection, a care order must be applied for. Detailed evidence, including psychological expert assessments of the child and parents must first be collated and a care plan must be drafted. Whilst this information is being collated, the Local Authority is likely to apply for an Interim Care Order.
A Care Order may only be granted if the threshold criteria (contained in Section 31 Children Act 1989) are adequately met. That is to say, the court must be satisfied that:
- the child is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm and
- that the harm is attributable to :
- the care given to, or likely to be given to the child if the order were not made
- the child being beyond parental control
Interim Care Order:
This may be made under Section 38 Children Act 1989. The court must be satisfied there are reasonable grounds for believing that the child has suffered or is likely to suffer significant harm. An Interim Care Order usually lasts for the duration of the proceedings.
Once an Interim Care Order is granted, the Local Authority must begin a twin-track planning process. This entails considering and assessing whether the child could be rehabilitated with the family or placed outside the family.
Once an Interim Care Order is obtained, a date should be fixed for a final hearing within 26 weeks. The threshold criteria, which must be crossed in order for a Care Order to be granted is contained in Section 31 Children Act 1989.
The court appoints a Children’s Guardian (under Section 41 Children Act 1989) who represents the child during the court proceedings following the grant of an Interim Care Order. The Guardian acts in the child’s best interests and files a report to the court setting out the course of action appropriate to the child’s best interests.
If the court is not minded to grant a Care Order, the following orders are also available to the court:
- A Supervision Order or a Family Assistance Order, where the child is returned to the family, benefiting from the advice, assistance and supervision of Children’s Services.
- A Child Arrangements Order if it is deemed that no local authority intervention is necessary.
- Special Guardianship Oder.
If a Care Order is granted, Children’s Services are required to allow parents reasonable contact with the child.
A Care Order remains until the child is 18, unless it is discharged prior to this. However, where a child is being looked after, social services are under a duty to provide advice and assistance until the child reaches the age of 21.
The Children Act 1989 and the associated governmental guidance focus upon the concept of a balanced approach to the protection of children. It centres on promoting a partnership between the Local Authority and the parents and encouraging co-operation between all agencies concerned with the child’s wellbeing and welfare.