Your Guide to Emergency Protection Orders
Child law can be extremely distressing times for everyone involved and, consequently, social service departments are often perceived negatively when a child is removed from their family home. However, this is not necessarily the case.
Every local council has a duty of care to the children within their local area, ensuring every child is receiving an adequate level of care. In circumstances where this care has come into question, it is only right that they take action, often arranging a child care proceeding to investigate the concern.
While social workers would rather help families work through their troubles, enabling the child/children in question to continue living in their family home, this is not always the case. In instances, where a child is deemed at immense risk, an Emergency Protection Order is implemented instantly.
What Is An Emergency Protection Order?
An Emergency Protection Order (EPO) is a court order that issues the instant removal of a child from their family home. These are issued when the child/children are considered in need of immediate protection and cannot stay at their current home, with their parents/guardian for their own safety.
Often in these situations, the children have either already come to significant harm within their home environment, or there is a high likelihood that they will come to harm if they are not temporarily removed.
When Are Emergency Protection Orders Instigated?
Emergency Protection Orders are regarded as necessary courses of action if a child is seen as being at risk under sections 44(1)(a), 44(1)(b) and 44(1)(c) of the Children Act 1989. All three statements in Section 44’s legislation are focused on the possibility of a child suffering “significant harm” that requires action as “a matter of urgency.”
Within the Children Act, the reference to ‘harm’ is defined as both physical injuries, as well as general mistreatment and the impairment of the child’s health or development. The definition also includes anything that could severely impact or damage their physical and psychological being.
Normally when a child is deemed at risk of harm, the police will exercise their right under police powers, to remove a child from their home for 72 hours. If the risk is then assessed and concerned not as immediate, then the Local Authority will make an application to the court for a Care Order or Supervision Order. The court process will then assess the need for the child’s removal from their home address.
At the end of the court process, a Judge will determine whether the child can return home and if the family can work together with social services to improve the situation, or whether a more permanent removal is needed. If needed a foster family will be found and the adoption process may begin if it is decided that the child should be placed for adoption.
In situations where the risk is considered immediate, an Emergency Protection Order can be made by the court and the child can remain away from their parents and guardians for a further period. During this time, the child’s parental responsibility is shared between the parents/guardians and the local authority and a court case will help to decide on an agreed care plan.
What Factors Are Considered Before An EPO Is Issued?
When Emergency Protection Orders are advised by the social services, the child is often already on their radar. These children are kept under close supervision due to pre-existing factors within their family set-up, often relating to previous traumas, events or medical records. For example, if there has already been a case of neglect or mistreatment – especially if there are records of non-accidental injuries, including broken bones, fractures and bruising.
Moreover, if there is a history of sexual, domestic or general abuse, which is inclusive of drugs and alcohol abuse, social services will already be involved with a family. Similarly, with mental health diagnoses, evidence of shaken baby syndrome, subdural or retinal haemorrhages or development delay, disabilities and learning difficulties, a child’s welfare will be monitored.
However, this does not mean that reports or concerns regarding children who are not currently on social services’ books are taken less seriously. Any suggestion that questions a child’s welfare and especially their safety is acted upon and investigated thoroughly.
Who Has The Authority To Implement An EPO?
It may come as a surprise to know that the social services do not have the power to remove a child from their home environment without a court hearing and a Judge ruling this decision as to the best course of action. The only people with the authority to implement an Emergency Protection Order are the police.
Police officers can remove a child for up to 72 hours, putting them under police protection, if their safety has been compromised or is at serious risk of being compromised at home. An EPO can then be issued for 8 days if the risk is still likely. But, in most cases, an Emergency Protection Order will only be granted at the end of a child care proceeding where the pre-proceedings (PLO) meeting has progressed to a public law court case. If needed these orders can be further extended for 7 days whilst the local authority prepares their case or investigates further.
However, while only the police and a court of law can implement an EPO, anyone can apply for an Emergency Protection Order if a child is deemed in danger. Although, most applications come from local authorities’ social services departments or child charities, such as the NSPCC. As these orders are time-sensitive, due to the severity of the concerns and the possible catastrophic consequences, a hearing will follow as soon as possible. For an EPO to be justified, a court would expect reasonable cause that the child is at risk of coming to immediate harm.
An EPO is viewed with the ‘no order principle’ in mind; without any action and no order instigated the child’s welfare would significantly suffer, whereas this would be improved with an order in place. This action would therefore support the legislation under section 44 of the Children Act, the child’s welfare requires an EPO to be authorised. In fact, an Emergency Protection Order is paramount to protect a child’s welfare.
What Does An EPO Involve?
When an EPO has been approved by the court or police, a child can be instantly removed from their home environment for 8 days. Therefore, warrants will be granted to allow the police access to properties, allowing them to search for and remove the child in question. As Emergency Protection Orders are granted by a court of law, it is a criminal offence to prevent this order from being followed through.
The social services are given parental rights and responsibility for the child, allowing them to refuse the child returning to their parent’s care and refusing access to the child through Exclusion Requirements.
While this sounds traumatic for both the child and the family, EPOs are only instigated in extreme circumstances. They are seen as the only way to keep a child safe, removing them from ongoing danger and coming to imminent harm.
How long does an emergency protection order last?
An EPO most commonly lasts for a period of up to 8 days. In rare cases, an application can be made to extend this for a further week if the child is still at serious risk of coming into harm.
An extension can only be made to an Emergency Protection Order by the child’s new guardian, whoever has been entrusted with their parental responsibility and is able to apply for a Care Order. In most cases, this will be the local authority or the NSPCC. This order can be extended for a further 7 days, if social services have not decided to issue care proceedings or whether further investigation is required.
During the initial 8-day period, the process will begin in court to see whether a Care Order or Supervision Order is necessary.
The Next Steps: What Happens After An EPO?
Once the child has been removed and a child care proceeding begins, the court will hear all sides to the case. The Judge will rule whether a Care Order or Supervision Order is the necessary option to ensure the child’s welfare and safety is prioritised and protected moving forward.
A Care Order sees the child’s parental responsibility handed over to the local authority, giving them the right to make decisions regarding their health and education. During this time the child will be placed with a foster family or an agreed family member. While the child’s parents will still retain some responsibility for their child, the social services will be entrusted with the majority of the day-to-day decisions influencing the child’s care and welfare.
Whereas, a Supervision Order allows the child to return home with their parents/guardians. Under this ruling, the local authority’s social services department will remain in close contact with the family, assisting and supporting the child’s care to ensure significant improvements are made. In most cases, the Judge will rule this order for 12 months; however, a Supervision Order can be extended for a further two years.
How Can Cartwright King Help?
With the help of a qualified and experienced child care solicitor, you will be able to get through this extremely difficult time that accompanies an Emergency Protection Order.
At Cartwright King, our emergency protection order solicitors can offer excellent legal advice without judgement. They will be able to offer you the support you need, advising and representing you every step of the way. For more information, please get in touch with your nearest Cartwright King office today.
Can I have contact with my child if an EPO is made?
Even when an Emergency Protection Order has been put in place, the local authority still has a duty to allow for reasonable contact between the child and their parents or guardians. Of course, this contact will heavily depend on the circumstances that have led to an EPO being ruled. It is often the case that parents are supervised by social workers during these visits and they will take place in contact centres. Further, into proceedings, other family members may be allowed access to the child; however, this will be under similar circumstances.
Can I appeal against an EPO?
It is possible to appeal an Emergency Protection Order through a discharge, as long as the dismissal is within 72 hours of the order being ruled. But, there are specific circumstances for this appeal to stand:
- The parents/guardians cannot have received notice of the hearing.
- The parents/guardians did not attend the hearing.
Furthermore, an appeal can only be made in the above situation by:
- The child in question
- Their parents/guardians
- Anyone with parental responsibility
- Anyone the child was living with before the EPO
Your child care solicitor will be able to explain the formalities of appeals in more detail, and in relation to your case. They can advise you on how to approach a discharge and will represent you throughout the process, interpreting the legal jargon so you can understand the entire process.
Is legal aid available for emergency protection orders?
When social services apply to the court for an Emergency Protection Order, legal aid is automatically made available to the child’s parents. In some cases, this financial support may also be extended to additional family members, depending on their strength of case and way of means. In any case, it is always worth investigating your eligibility.
Who can apply for an emergency protection order?
To sum up, anyone can raise concerns regarding a child’s care that encourages the social services to carry out an investigation into a child’s welfare. Moreover, technically anyone can apply to the court for the consideration of an Emergency Protection Order. In reality, however, most EPOs are suggested to the court by social services and children’s charities, such as NSPCC.
The police also have the right to instigate Emergency Protection Orders, and they are the only people with the authority to remove a child from their home environment without an order from the court.
All advice is correct at time of publication.