Nobody wants a child protection order imposed through state intervention. However, local authorities are instrumental in ensuring proper child protection. Under the Children Act 1989 authorities have three primary duties:
- To safeguard children that are in need.
- To provide accommodation; and
- To investigate the welfare of children in certain circumstances.
Ultimately, it is the Court who decides to remove any child from the parents.
The Starting Point: What is a Section 47 Investigation?
If there have been any reports to the local authority or any cause for concern, the authority should launch a Section 47 investigation. Markedly, to establish whether it is in the children’s best interest to make an application for some child protection order. Ultimately, this investigation is justified by reasonable suspicion that a child is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm.
If a child protection order is appropriate, an application will be made to the Court. Following this, the Court will consider the welfare of any child separately and balance each child’s welfare against the other, which determines the course(s) to be followed. The Court considers a statutory welfare checklist which will broadly consider anything that conduces to a child’s welfare and happiness or relates to the child’s development and present life and future life.
Emergency Protection Order
The purpose of this order is to offer immediate short-term protection. It allows the authority to enter any premise named in the EPO to search for and remove the named child. Additionally, parental responsibility is given to the authority whilst the order is in force. The order lasts eight days and may be extended by the Court once for an additional seven days totalling fifteen days. As this may involve the immediate removal of a child without notice, it should only be ordered where there is a reasonable belief that if the child is not removed from the accommodation, then he is likely to suffer significant harm; or if the authorities enquiries into the child’s welfare have been frustrated by the parents.
Supervision or Care Order
On the authority’s application to the Court child under the age of seventeen may have a supervision or care order put in place. The only route is through Section 31 of the Children Act 1989 and with the Court’s consent. Proceedings should be completed without delay and take no longer than 26 weeks.
Any order must promote the welfare of the child. As a result, where possible, the least interventionist option should be sought and must be better than making no order at all. The Court may only make an order if it is satisfied—
a) that the child concerned is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm; and b) that the harm, or likelihood of harm, is attributable to—
- the care given to the child, or likely to be given to him if the order were not made, not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give to him; or
- the child’s being beyond parental control.
A supervision order is generally preferred (but not always appropriate) to a care order. It is less intrusive to the right to respect private and family life. It lasts for up to a year but may be extended to a maximum of three. It does not give the authority parental responsibility, and children are not usually removed from the home. Children are put under the supervision of the designated local authority with a designated supervisor who advises, assists and befriends a supervised child.
The supervisor may also make parenting recommendations to the parents. Unlike a care order, it is based on the consent and cooperation of the parents, so if there is no reasonable relationship with the parents, then the authority must apply for a care order to remove the children.
On an application for a care order, the local authority must prepare a care plan for the child. Whilst a care order is in force, children are in the care of the authority who gain parental responsibility and acquire the power to dictate the extent to which the parents may exercise their parental responsibility. The authority may place the children in accommodation such as a children’s home or with foster parents. The authority is first required to attempt arrangements for a child to live with friends or family unless it is not practical or inconsistent with the child’s welfare.
CourtTogether: Avoiding Child Protection Orders
CourtTogether understands that local authorities and the Court’s involvement regarding children are traumatic. Sometimes, things get heated in a relationship; it will feel that the only resort is to seek an intermediary. However, going to the local authorities is not the only way. At CourtTogether we will work with you and your partner to understand what is best for your child. We will help you by writing up a suggested care plan for the child. We act as a mediator. Ultimately, we are the impartial “middle person” between you and your partner. We listen to both sides and develop something that will suit you both, with the child’s best interests being at the forefront of our minds. We help you, help each other, to help your child.