Social services, also known as the local authority, will usually only take a child away from their parents if they believe that the child is at risk of significant harm suffering harm or neglect in their current circumstances. They are obliged to investigate any complaints or concerns reported to them.
Common reasons why social services would remove a child include:
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Emotional abuse
The Children Act 1989 places a duty on social services to provide services to promote and safeguard the welfare of children. It is a social services duty to ensure that children are not placed at risk of significant harm. Social services priority has to be the child, and they have to take the necessary steps to protect the child when they have significant concerns regarding their welfare.
In a lot of cases social services will be involved with the family before the removal of a child is contemplated. The child may have been placed on either a “child in need plan” or “child protection plan”.
Social services will try and assist families as much as they can under a child in need or child protection plan. However, sometimes enough changes are not made and social services are still worried that a child is at risk of significant harm. In these cases if social services are considering issuing proceedings they may instigate a pre-proceedings meeting (sometimes known as a PLO meeting) to see what can be done to assist the family, to work with the parents and see whether changes can be made in order to avoid proceedings.
If during the pre proceedings meetings, the local authority believes the child remains at risk of harm and the issues cannot be addressed in the children’s timescales, the local authority may issue care proceedings and the court will ultimately make the decision as to whether to grant the order sought and approve a plan of removal of a child from the parents’ care.
Sadly there are times where social services have no other course of action but to remove children from the care of the parents to prevent children from suffering or being at risk of suffering significant harm. In an emergency the local authority may apply to the court for an emergency protection order or interim care order to safeguard a child who is considered to be at risk of significant harm.
If there are immediate concerns for a child’s safety, a child may be removed by the police and placed in police protection for up to 72 hours. Before the end of the 72 hours the local authority must either return the child to the parents care or seek an order from the court.
The Local Authority may apply for an emergency protection order which will allow them to remove the child from the parents care for a further 8 days. A parent should be given notice that this application for an emergency protection order by the local authority has been made, to ensure that they can be represented at the hearing, unless the circumstances are exceptional. If you received notification of an application you should seek independent legal advice without delay.
The local authority may apply to the court for an interim care order. The local authority will need to evidence that the child is at risk of harm or has suffered significant harm because the parenting was not the parenting that a reasonable parent would provide. This is the “threshold” which must be met for such orders to be made. The making of an Interim care order gives the local authority parental responsibility for a child, which is shared with the parent, and they are then responsible for the child’s placement and decisions about their care. The local authority can then ask the court to consider sanctioning removing the child from the parents’ care. Again a parent should be given notice of such application and urgently seek independent legal advice,
A local authority can still apply for these orders if your child has not previously been known to the social services and they are worried your child is at risk or suffering significant harm, or has suffered significant harm in your care.
Sometimes social services can ask parents to agree to their child being ‘looked after’ by the local authority which could mean them being placed with a family member or friend who is approved as a temporary carer for them by the local authority or placed in foster care. This can happen by the local authority asking a parent with parental responsibility to ‘consent’ to their child being ‘accommodated. This is often called ‘S20 consent’. This is voluntary consent and you can remove your consent at any time. Depending on the circumstances, if you remove consent, the local authority may apply to court to ask for an interim care order.
When social services become involved with your family in relation to your children, you are entitled to legal representation and you should seek legal advice if social services are seeking to remove your child. We can provide you with expert legal advice and legal aid is often available in such cases.
If you are concerned about potential or existing court orders, known as emergency protection orders or interim care orders, or any are concerned about any of the issues raised in this blog, our team can offer expert advice. Get in touch for more information.