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Merseyside Police release advice for victims of domestic abuse concerned about staying at home
The domestic violence lockdown is worrying Merseyside Police who are now encouraging everyone to become familiar with options within the 999 system. If people are not free to speak but are able to make a noise or press 55, it alerts the BT operator to the fact that you need help and they can then connect to the police. For example, if you can only make a noise such as tapping the handset, coughing, crying or even talking to the offender, then these actions will alert the attention of the BT operator. Mark Groves, Chief Executive of the National Centre for Domestic Violence, comments on the initiative: During these extremely difficult times, we need victims of domestic abuse to be aware of every initiative that is available to help them. Many victims cannot speak on the phone or even use an app for fear of reprisals from their abuser, but if they can make a covert call to alert the police they are in danger this could save lives. Katha Lunt, experienced domestic abuse lawyer from our Liverpool branch, comments: The message from Merseyside Police is clear. Protection from domestic violence remains a priority during these difficult times. Domestic Violence helplines are reporting a significant increase in telephone calls and visitors to their websites. With the country on lockdown, there is a real risk those suffering domestic violence will feel they have no access to protective measures, at a time when they are being required to spend more and more time with the perpetrator of their abuse. We must ensure the message is received by those who require protection from domestic abuse; help is still available. Since the government’s restriction on all but essential travel, steps have been taken within the Justice System to ensure people continue to have access to urgent protective orders including Non-Molestation and Occupation Orders. Here at National Legal Service Solicitors Liverpool, whilst working from home over… [...]
We are delighted to announce that we have launched a new Care Department, based in our St Paul’s office in London. The aim of the department is to further enhance the range of legal support the firm can offer to its ever increasing clientele. Led by Sheena Donlon, the department will focus on representing clients in the South of England.
Sheena has considerable experience in advocacy at the Family Proceedings Court, County Court and High Court and has represented parents, family members and children in public law proceedings (including Emergency Protection Orders, Care Orders, Supervision Orders and Secure Accommodation orders. She’s an accredited member of the Law Society’s Children Panel since 2014 which allows her to represent children in highly complex matters, involving Local Authority Care and Supervision Proceedings.
She also represents clients in private law matters involving Child Arrangements, Special Guardianship and Parental Responsibility applications.
Having recently doubled its staff count in Birmingham, Kent & Coventry, the establishment of the new team is part of the firm’s strategy to expand its specialist offering to other areas of law.
Head of Family, Kirsty Richards, welcomed Sheena, commenting:
The aim of the new department is to focus on the care work already being undertaken by our specialist solicitors in our various branches, by specifically having a dedicated team dealing exclusively with public children law work. NLS is keen to establish a stronghold in London and the surrounding areas in respect of this type of work and with Sheena’s leadership, the team will develop in the coming months to achieve that goal.
A recent BBC News investigation has found that looked-after teenagers over the age of 16 are at risk of exploitation and abuse whilst residing in unregulated homes across England and Wales. Such accommodation avoids inspection and regulation due to its provision of ‘support’ opposed to ‘care’, despite the vulnerabilities of these young people.
According to figures from the Department for Education, about 5,500 looked after children in England were living in this type of accommodation, up 70% from 10 years ago. This increase is attributable to the rise of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)- these are experiences in which children are exposed to domestic violence, neglect, abuse, drug and alcohol addiction and untreated mental illness.
The recent BBC news article highlights cases at Centurion Care. One incident involves a resident who was not provided with sufficient care following incidents of self-harm, and another incident involved resident who absconded for a week despite being seen getting into a car with a large group of males.
One of the primary issues that the report highlights is that vulnerable young people were typically placed in towns away from where they were brought up. The Association of Directors of Children’s Services said: “There is a national shortage of foster carers and a growing disconnect between the location of residential children’s homes and need.”
The Department for Education in England has described how local authorities have a legal duty to ensure there is suitable accommodation for these children. Local authorities are in breach of duty in allowing the existence of these unregulated care homes that enable young people to be exposed to exploitation.
In a welcome move, the government has recently announced a £30 million funding boost that will assist law enforcement with pioneering new technologies to track down paedophiles operating online and help safeguard children who have been abused.
An Emergency Protection Order (also called an EPO) is an urgent order granted by the Court if the local authority has satisfied the court that a child is in immediate need of protection from significant harm or a risk of significant harm. These types of applications are usually issued by a local authority.
They can follow situations where the police have exercised their powers to remove children under police protection (which is a temporary situation of up to 72 hours). If there is no immediate risk of harm, then the most likely application will be an application for a care or supervision order, sometimes on short notice if there is still an element of urgency to the facts of the case.
If an EPO is granted by the Court, the local authority/ children services then share Parental Responsibility for the child/ren and in support of their application they will have filed a proposed care plan detailing their views around the following issues:
- Whether the child/ren should be removed from the parent(s) and if so, where they should be placed pending further consideration by the court; for example should the child/ren be placed with other family/friends (approved by the local authority) or should they be placed with local authority foster carers, for example.
- What safeguards need to be put in place to address the identified risk(s) to the child/ren.
- What contact can be safely arranged for the parents to see the child/ren.
It is a criminal offence to prevent someone from removing a child if an EPO has been granted. The child/ren are usually removed by a social worker and can be accompanied by police if it is felt necessary, depending on the situation.
How long does an EPO last?
An Emergency Protection Order usually lasts for up to eight days. However, an application may be made to extend this. This will be granted for up to 7 days if there is reasonable cause to believe that the child is at risk of significant harm.
What contact can I have with my child if an EPO is made?
The local authority is under a duty to allow reasonable contact between the child/ren and parent(s). However, what is reasonable depends entirely on the circumstances of the case and most often, any contact that is permitted by the local authority is supervised – usually in a children’s contact centre but sometimes other arrangements can be made to be supervised by family members although that usually comes much later on in proceedings.
Can I appeal against an EPO?
You can apply to discharge (dismiss) the Emergency Protection Order within 72 hours only if:
- You were not given notice of the hearing and
- You were not present at the hearing
However, if it was believed by Children’s Services that the child was at immediate risk of harm and/or in immediate danger, they have the right to apply for an EPO without giving notice to the parent(s).
More often than not, following any EPO application, the local authority will then apply for interim care orders (ICOs) to maintain the status quo of the children’s arrangements pending further assessments/investigation of the family. The parents (with parental responsibility) will be given notice of any ICO application listed before the family court and legal aid is available as it is not means or merits tested.
It is at that first hearing that the parents may wish to challenge the continuing separation from their child/ren and in reality, the ICO hearing may be listed sooner than an appeal can be prepared.
Head of Family, Kirsty Richards comments:-
Whenever the local authority is involved with a family, it is without doubt one of the most scariest times for the parent/s and child/ren as these decisions can be made very urgently after relatively little court time. There are some parents that I have helped in the past that have been working with social services for some time prior to the issue of court proceedings and when things then escalate to the family court arena, they do not always think it is necessary to get legal representation.
I would advise any parent/ carer with parental responsibility that it is crucial to get legal advice at the earliest opportunity when the local authority has given you notice of any court hearing. Most local authorities will have a list of specialist lawyers attached to any letter advising of imminent legal proceedings, otherwise you can search for a solicitor that is a Member of the Law Society’s Children Panel via the Law Society’s website. We have many accredited solicitors here at NLS and a team of junior lawyers that assist with this type of case. We have experience of this type of proceedings nationwide and are committed to providing a high quality of legal advice to all parent/s in this situation.
How we can help
Our expert team of family solicitors are specialists in the area of Emergency Protection Order/Interim Care Order applications and are experienced in responding quickly in what is almost always a very rapidly developing situation.
Please call 0203 6015051 for specialist legal advice from one of our accredited solicitors. It is crucial to obtain legal advice as early as possible whenever the local authority is involved with your family and has taken the decision to issue court proceedings.
What is a PLO (Public Law Outline) Meeting?
If a local authority is involved with your family, you will have a social worker assigned to do direct work with you and your child/ren. There are a few levels of social work intervention such as children in need plans, child protection plans, PLO intervention and court proceedings.
When social workers have been working with a family for some time and/or if serious concerns are highlighted as to the safety of any child/ren in the family, the local authority can decide to invite parents to a Public Law Outline Meeting (PLO) or a pre-proceedings meeting. A PLO meeting tends to be the last opportunity to try to resolve matters by agreement prior to the issue of care proceedings. If care proceedings are issued, you are entitled to free legal advice – legal aid – and you should not delay in securing representation ahead of the first hearing date.
What is the purpose of the PLO meeting?
The main reason for the meeting is to discuss the concerns the local authority has in respect of the perceived safeguarding concerns for the children, this could be due to neglect, suspected abuse, domestic abuse in the parents’ relationship or a child/ren that is beyond parental control. The local authority will discuss what needs to change and they will explore if an agreement can be reached to prevent the commencement of court proceedings.
Parents are advised to instruct their own Solicitor who can then attend the PLO meeting with them. Together with the social worker and the Local Authority’s Solicitor, they can then try and reach an agreement as to how to keep their child safe and well.
If an agreement can be reached, the local authority will draw up a written agreement which will need to be signed by the parents. A PLO meeting may also be used to inform the parents that care proceedings are being commenced if they feel the risk of harm to the child is too high.
What do I do if I have received a letter?
If you receive a letter inviting you to a PLO Meeting it is vital that you seek urgent legal advice. If you are a parent you will be entitled to legal aid and will have representation at that meeting for free. If you are not a parent but are the main carer for the child, you may still be eligible for free legal advice.