In circumstances where the safety of a child is deemed to be at risk under the Children Act 1989, a Local Authority (LA) is legally entitled to remove the child from the care of their parents. The LA has a duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of all children in their area. If a child is thought to be at risk of significant harm they will investigate and try to resolve any problems and keep the child with their family.
Care Orders (Section 31)
A Care Order is sought by an LA (or the NSPCC in very rare circumstances), when they believe a child is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm and there is no perceived alternative to safeguard and promote their welfare. The Order will remain in place until the child reaches the age of 18 but can be ended prior to this if they are adopted, for example. Whilst the Care Order is in force, the LA has parental responsibility for the child and the power to determine the extent to which a parent or guardian may meet their parental responsibility to the child. They also decide where the child will live and with whom and how they will have contact. Decisions on adoption, allowing the child to live outside the UK for more than 28 days and the religion under which the child will be brought up require everybody’s input and the Court can make another Order if agreement is not reached. Supervision Orders (Section 31) These last for an initial period of twelve months but the Supervisor can apply to the Court for an extension up to a maximum of three years and the LA does not have parental responsibility. The Supervisor must advise, assist and befriend the child and take steps that are reasonably necessary to give effect to the order. The supervised child may also be required to comply with the directions of the supervisor, such as living at a place they specify, participating in specified activities and presenting themselves to specific people, such as a social worker. Secure Accommodation Orders (Section 25) These Orders permit an LA to place a child in secure accommodation for a period of up to 72 hours. Beyond this, the LA must apply to the Court for an order of up to three months if the child has legal representation. An order of up to six months can be applied after this time, providing the child is not on remand from a criminal court. An SAO can only also only be made if the child is already subject to a Care Order unless they are under the age of 16. Children under the age of 13 can only be kept in secure accommodation with the consent of the Secretary of State. In any case, they can also only be placed in secure accommodation until the age of 18. The LA must also remove the child from secure accommodation if during the course of the order they no longer meet the criteria. They must also make arrangements for contact between the child and their parents, or seek a Court order suspending or stopping contact if deemed necessary. Emergency Protection Orders (Section 44) In extreme cases they may apply for an Emergency Protection Order (EPO) to remove the child from their home. An EPO can only be applied for if the authority has “reasonable cause to believe the child is likely to suffer significant harm and that he/she will be in danger unless he/she is removed to a place of safety”. In some cases if access to the child has been unreasonably denied an EPO will enable a full assessment of the child’s needs. An EPO application gives the LA parental responsibility, however the child’s parents are usually allowed to see them during this time usually under supervision. In all cases the LA will try to work in partnership with the parents or carers for the child and seek to resolve the situation to ensure the child remains safe. An application can only be made through the Courts and lasts for eight days but the Court can extend it for a further period not exceeding seven days.
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