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When can social services remove a child from the care of their parents?

View profile for Victoria Gethin
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Child arrangements and coronavirus

The powers of social services have once again been brought to the attention of the public. This follows the case of a nurse whose one year old child was removed from her care by social services. It was reported that a social worker raised concerns over the way the mother had allowed her son to sit on a ‘Bob the Builder’ toy car.

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.

Some elements in the media appear to suggest that social services remove children for what are often described as trivial reasons. Sadly there are times where social services have no other course of action but to remove the child from the care of the parents to prevent the child from suffering significant harm.

In an emergency the local authority may apply to the court for an emergency protection order with a view to removing the child from the parents’ care. However if the matter is not urgent, in the overwhelming majority of cases social services will have intervened with the family well before the removal of a child is contemplated.

At an earlier stage the child may have been placed on either a “child in need plan” or “child protection plan”.  

Social services will try and assist the families as much as they are able with the hope that care proceedings can be avoided. If the local authority is seriously contemplating 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.

Thereafter if the child remains at risk of harm and the issues cannot be addressed the local authority may issue care proceedings and the court will ultimately make the decision as to whether to approve a plan of removal of a child from the parents’ care. 

Social services priority has to be the child, and they have to take the necessary steps to protect the child.

The powers of the social services have always come and are likely continue to come into question by the media and members of the public. The view of social services is not helped by the media who may confuse and over-simplify the stories they publish.   

What the media at times fails to illustrate is that social services will properly have significant concerns. In the above case the newspapers go on to explain that the social worker had concerns over the mother’s ability to meet the child’s basic needs.  

The role of social services and state intervention in family life is likely to remain a hot topic and one that may continue to divide public opinion. 

Can social services take my child away?

Social services will usually only take a child away from their parents if they believe that the child is at risk of harm or neglect in their current circumstances. They are obliged to investigate any complaints or concerns reported to them.

If you are concerned about potential or existing court orders, known as emergency protection orders or interim care orders, for removal of your child or children, our team can offer expert advice. Get in touch for more information.

Conclusion - When would social services take a child away?

A court order, known as an emergency protection order, is required for social services to take a child away from parents, unless there are immediate concerns for the child’s safety, in which case a child may be removed by the police and placed in police protection for up to 72 hours. You should be given notice of an application for an emergency protection order by the local authority, to ensure you can be represented at the hearing, unless the circumstances are exceptional.

By Victoria Bailey and Victoria Gethin in the family law department