An emergency protection order (EPO) is a time-limited order designed to provide instant protection for a child who is considered to be at risk of significant harm. But who can request an EPO and what are the circumstances where a child can be subject to one and taken into care? Here, we find out.
Need specialist family law advice?
Slater Heelis is a highly respected law firm, established over 250 years ago and serving clients across the UK and abroad. Their specialist family law team is consistently ranked highly in Chambers & Partners and The Legal 500 guides. They are entirely dedicated to issues relating to divorce, children, family finances, relationship agreements, and all other legal issues arising from relationship breakdown. Employing only the brightest and best, the firm has an exceptional record in successfully representing clients across the UK in family law matters.
In what circumstances can a child be removed by an emergency protection order?
The court can grant an EPO if it believes a child needs to be removed from their home and placed in the care of the local authority. They are granted by the court on a temporary basis, and are usually issued where the child faces imminent or ongoing danger of physical, emotional, or mental harm. The court must be satisfied there is cause to believe the child is in danger to such an extent that it is in their best interests to place them into children’s services accommodation. In some cases, they can remain where they are if this is considered safe, e.g., a hospital.
The most common grounds for an EPO include (but are not limited to):
- Exposure to domestic abuse, including physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
- Neglect or mistreatment
- Exposure to drug or alcohol abuse
- Mental health concerns
- Developmental delay
- Disability concerns
How long does an EPO last?
An EPO lasts for eight days, although in certain circumstances, it can be extended for a further seven days to maintain the child’s safety. During this time, the local authority is required to consider and review the level of day-to-day risk. If the risk is no longer present, the local authority has a duty to reunite the parents with the child as soon as it can, even if the EPO has not expired.
If children’s services believe the risk is ongoing and the child cannot be returned to their parents’ care, they may start care proceedings.
Who can remove the child from their parents care?
EPOs can be requested by the local authority’s children’s services and, in some circumstances, both the police and the NSPCC may also apply. It is worth noting the police have the power to remove a child immediately from the care of their parents without the matter going to court. Although this is considered an extreme measure, it can be used if a police officer has reasonable grounds to believe a child would be likely to suffer significant harm if they are not removed.
What powers do the local authority have under an EPO?
If an EPO is granted, then children’s services will obtain a degree of parental responsibility, including the right to:
- Remove the child from their parents and take them into care
- Prevent the child from returning to their parents care
- See the child, even if the parents refuse to cooperate
- Make an ‘Exclusion Requirement’ preventing the person believed to be a significant risk to the child from seeing them or living in the same house
The court may give the local authority the permission to enter a property to search for the child and can issue a police warrant so they can support children’s services if the parents refuse to access. In addition to the above powers, the court could also issue instructions regarding medical examinations, if necessary.
Can I prevent children’s services from taking my child into care?
It is a criminal offence to prevent the local authority from removing a child if an EPO has been granted. Children’s services can ask the court for an order allowing them to search the location for additional children if they believe there is more than one child at the property. If additional children are found at the location, children’s services have the right to remove them as well, providing the conditions for making the EPO have been found to be accurate.
Can I see my child if they’ve been removed under an EPO?
Contact is presumed to be of benefit to a child who has been removed, and the local authority must allow them reasonable contact with:
- Anyone holding parental responsibility
- Anyone the child was living with immediately before the EPO was made
- Anyone who has a current child arrangements order
As part of the EPO, the court may give directions regarding contact, such as where it should take place, how often, and whether it should be supervised.
Can I appeal against an EPO?
There is a right to apply to discharge the EPO within 72 hours of it being made by the court. Although this will only be valid if the parent was not present at the hearing, or if they did not receive notice of the hearing. If children’s services believed the child was at risk or in immediate danger, they have the right to apply for an EPO without giving notice to the parents beforehand.
Will I still have parental responsibility if my child has been removed by an EPO?
As stated above, an EPO only grants limited parental responsibility to the local authority, which does not diminish or reduce others’ parental responsibility. The local authority can only use their parental responsibility to safeguard the child during this time.
What happens after an EPO?
After removal, the local authority has to decide whether to return the child if the risk has ended or begin care proceedings if it has not. The judge will decide whether a care order or supervision order is necessary to ensure the child’s safety and welfare is protected and prioritised.
A care order hands parental responsibility to the local authority, and they will place the child with either a foster family or an agreed family member. Whereas a supervision order lets the child return home to their parents with the local authority remaining in close contact with the family, assisting and supporting the child’s care to ensure significant and measurable improvements are made. In most cases, the supervision order will be for 12 months, although it can be extended for a further two years, if necessary.
The information on this website is to be considered a guide and is therefore not legal advice. You use this information with the understanding that Wiselaw does not accept liability for any direct or indirect losses as a result of anyone relying on or acting upon the information on this website. Whilst we endeavour to provide accurate information, Wiselaw does not accept liability for any errors or omissions on this website.