Emergency Protection of Children
In certain circumstances, local authorities can become involved in child protection. The power to take urgent steps to secure a child’s safety is subject to strict guidelines.
Emergency Protection Orders
An Emergency Protection Order (sometimes called an EPO) may be issued by the Court if a child is in imminent need of protection. It has to be a genuine emergency from which the child is to be removed.
Who can apply?
Any person may apply. This will often be a local authority or it may be an authorised person such as a designated police officer or the NSPCC.
The application is made to the Single Family Court.
Grounds for an application
The application will be on the basis that the child is likely to suffer significant harm if not removed from the place in which he or she is accommodated or if not removed to accommodation provided by the applicant.
The local authority can seek an Order if there is a reasonable belief that a child is at risk of harm unless the child is removed for their own protection. If a local authority’s attempts to gain access to a child are being frustrated this would be grounds for them to apply for an Emergency Protection Order without the need to produce evidence of a risk of harm, so long as the applicant has reasonable cause to believe that the child is in urgent need of protection.
In the case of an authorised person such as the NSPCC the same grounds, frustration by refusal or access to the child may also be the basis of an application.
The sort of situation where this could arise is if the child attends A&E with an injury and that there is a pattern of such injuries over several months and the child states that the injury was caused by their parent. The medical staff might report this to the local authority.
It should be remembered that the Courts will only make Emergency Protection Orders in extreme circumstances. It has to be necessary and proportionate with no other remedy available and an imminent danger.
An Emergency Protection Order should not be put in place longer than is necessary.
There has to be detailed strong and exact evidence before an EPO is granted.
Notice of the date of the application should be given save in the most extreme cases. A local authority seeking to obtain an Order without any notice would need to have even stronger evidence.
The Court will make very careful records of the evidence given and the parents of the child will be entitled to be supplied with all evidence whether in the form of documents or statements which were presented to the Court. The local authority should provide such information promptly.
It should be noted that the local authority also has a duty to keep the case under review on a daily basis to minimise the period of separation of the child from the parent.
Where an EPO is in place the local authority also has to ensure that the child has reasonable contact with its parents.
In addition to the Court record referred to above and the availability of documentary materials a recording will be made.
What is the effect of an Emergency Protection Order?
An Order requires the child to be produced to the applicant to be taken to the safe accommodation provided. It may also prevent the child being removed from a hospital or other place he or she was accommodated in at the time of the EPO. The Order allows the child to be brought to a safe place or the removal prevented from such a place.
An EPO gives the applicant, say the local authority, parental responsibility for the child.
The EPO, may also allow for contact between the child and a named person and for a medical or psychiatric or other assessment to be carried out.
If the applicant who has obtained the EPO forms the view that it is safe for the child to be returned or allowed to be removed from a safe place such as a hospital, the applicant should do this. In other words, it does not require a further Court Order but is in fact an obligation.
As an alternative to removing the child an EPO can be made for the perpetrator to be removed. The basis for such an Order would be where it is shown that the child will cease to suffer or be exposed to significant harm or that enquiries will cease to be frustrated. In addition, the Court will need to be satisfied that there is another person in the home able and willing to give the child care. That person also has to consent to the exclusion of the other person.
Contact while the Emergency Protection Order is current
The law recognises that an EPO will have a big impact on a child. Reasonable contact should be allowed with parents, other people with parental responsibility, someone who the child is living with and anyone who has a contact Order to allow them to see the child. It also applies to someone authorised by, for example, the parents.
If there is an exclusion requirement in place this will need to be taken into account.
How long will an Emergency Protection Order last?
The Order will remain in place for up to 8 days. An application may be made to extend this. This will be granted for up to 7 days if there is reasonable cause to believe that the child is at risk of significant harm.
An application for discharge of the Order can be made by a parent, someone else who has parental responsibility, someone who the child was living with before the making of the Order or the child him or herself. The earliest such an application can be made is 72 hours from the making of the Order.
Police powers and vulnerable children
The police are under a duty to safeguard a child’s welfare if they find one in need of protection.
Provided a police officer has reasonable cause they have the power to remove the child to suitable accommodation or take such steps as are reasonable to ensure that they are not removed from a hospital or other safe place.
Once the officer has taken the child into police protection, the officer is required to inform the local authority in the relevant area. The child will then be moved to accommodation provided or a refuge.
The police officer must inform the child’s parents and anyone else who has parental responsibility as soon as reasonably practicable.
If after enquiry it is appropriate the officer is required to release the child. The child should only remain in police protection if there is reasonable cause to believe it would suffer significant harm.
The maximum period a child can be kept in police protection is 72 hours. During that time the police officer may apply for an Emergency Protection Order.