Child abuse is a serious problem that threatens to crumble the foundation of the family. In the United Kingdom, the parliament passed the Children Act 1989 to protect children from domestic violence, sexual abuse, and other forms of harassment.
Under Section 44 of the law, the local authorities, parents, courts, and other related agencies are tasked to ensure their protection and welfare.
When deemed necessary, the local authority and other concerned agencies can apply for emergency protection orders.
What is an emergency protection order?
An Emergency Protection Order (EPO) refers to the urgent order by the Family Court allowing the local authority or social services to take temporary custody of the child, preventing more serious physical and psychological harm. It is an urgent appeal that requires swift action.
Any attempt to prevent the social worker from removing the child from his home after serving the EPO is a criminal offence.
The parents have also the right to seek legal assistance for the dismissal of the order or challenge it within 72 hours only under two circumstances:
- There was no notice of the hearing.
- They were not present during the hearing.
An expert solicitor can help them represent their appeal to release the child and fight for the best interest of the family.
Who is eligible to apply for an EPO?
- The local authority (Social Services)
- Police officer
- National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC)
- A family member
- Anyone who fears that the child is in danger
What are the factors that the court considers before issuing an EPO?
The applicant for the emergency protection orders must establish that there are reasonable grounds that the child is being abused or likely to be abused.
It is crucial to satisfy the court that the EPO is in the best interest of the child. The court must be satisfied that there is a real danger if:
- The child is not removed from his current living environment.
- The child stays where he is now.
The local authority or NSPCC can also seek an EPO on the following grounds:
- Prove that they are making enquiries to know if the child is experiencing abuse or likely to suffer from a significant harm
- Believe that emergency access to the child is necessary
- Cannot make proper enquiries because of reasonable access to the child
What happens after the EPO is granted to the applicant?
The bearer of the protection order directs the parents to produce the child. When it is necessary, the local authority can enter the premises to search for the child.
The court can also issue a warrant that authorizes a police officer to accompany the social worker, especially if they are refused access to the child or enter the property. Anyone who obstructs the removal of the child can be arrested and imprisoned.
The EPO also gives the local authority a limited or shared parental responsibility for the child. A proposed care plan should be filed to clear the following issues:
- When removed from the parents, where would the child stay? Should he be placed with the approved family member or a friend or in the foster carers of the local authority?
- A safe arrangement that allows parents to see the child.
- The necessary safeguards to mitigate the identified risks to the child.
Emergency protection orders last for up to 8 days only. After this period, the child must be returned to the parents, provided that he is safe. The local authority can apply for an extension if there is still a great danger.