Ensuring the Safety of a Child in Urgent Family Situations With an Emergency Protection Order

Ensuring the Safety of a Child in Urgent Family Situations With an Emergency Protection Order

In the event the Local Authority are extremely concerned about the immediate welfare and safety of a child, it may apply for an Emergency Protection Order (EPO) due to the urgent family situation.

What is an emergency protection order?

An Emergency Protection Order is an urgent order granted by the court to ensure the safety of a child, who is at immediate risk of significant harm.

This type of order gives the local authority or social services temporary parental responsibility for the child.

It permits the child to be removed from their accommodation to a secondary location.

Depending on the circumstances around the EPO, it may alternatively be used to ensure the child stays in their accommodation. In practice, this could mean that the order is made to keep the child in hospital or to ensure that they remain in a foster home.

An EPO may be made after police intervention, whereby the police have exercised their powers to remove a child from their accommodation and into police protection. Police protection can only be granted for a maximum period of 72 hours.  The local authority may then apply for an EPO to ensure the child’s continued safety at the end of that 72-hour period.

Who can apply for an emergency protection order UK?

Section 44 of the Children Act 1989 states that any person can apply for an EPO. They are typically pursued by the local authority, which may already be involved with the family.

The authority may submit an application for EPO after ongoing involvement with the family, as a result of a referral from the police, medical or educational professionals or, after concerns are raised by a member of the public about the child’s safety. All EPO applications must be accompanied by compelling evidence.

A local authority will only make an application for an EPO where it considers the child to be at immediate risk – such as if there is a threat to life. They may confer with other stakeholders, such as police, healthcare providers or the child’s school, ahead of making the EPO but the emphasis is to act quickly where an immediate risk has been identified.

Unless being made ‘without notice (which used to be referred to as ex-parte)’, parents should be notified of the EPO application and are entitled to know what evidence is being used in support of the application.

In order to issue the order, the court must be satisfied that the child is at immediate risk of significant harm.

What happens after an EPO is granted?

The court will only issue an EPO where there are extremely compelling reasons to do so. Should the EPO be granted, temporary parental responsibility will be immediately conferred on the local authority. This permits the local authority to remove the child from their home and place them in alternative accommodation, such as in a foster home or with another family member.

However, it is important to note that the granting of an EPO alone doesn’t automatically mean that the child should be removed. That decision must be made by the local authority, and they should consider alternatives where possible.

If the EPO has been sought to keep the child in a medical facility – for example to ensure that any treatment continues – or in a foster home, then the child will remain in their accommodation.

An EPO can only be issued for a maximum period of eight days. The EPO may be extended for a further seven-day period if the child remains at risk of significant harm.

The local authority will be required to outline safeguarding measures that should be put in place to assure the child’s safety moving forwards. This will be included within a care plan, which will also outline how much contact a child should have with their parent or parents.

In extreme circumstances, an EPO application can be made ‘without notice’. That means the parents will not be informed of the application before it is made. Making a ‘without notice’ application may be appropriate if the local authority has reason to believe the parents may abscond with the child if informed of the application beforehand.

As EPOs are granted for a short period, the local authority will typically follow up with an Interim Care Order (ICO) application. This order allows for further assessments to take place.

If your family is subject to EPO proceedings, it’s important to seek legal support as soon as possible. Our expert team of family solicitors can move swiftly to assist you. You can contact us for specialist legal support.

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