As childcare lawyers, one question which we are frequently asked is ‘can a social worker remove my child from my care?’
If the Local Authority/Children’s Services are involved with your family, it is very important that you understand under what circumstances your child could be removed from your care.
The removal of a child from a parent is a very serious step and is not undertaken lightly. There are very strict rules about how and when such removal can occur.
There are only three ways in which your child can be removed from your care:
- In conjunction with the police who exercise their powers of protection. If a police officer is concerned about the welfare of your child and that officer has reasonable cause to believe that your child would be likely to suffer significant harm if they are not removed to suitable accommodation and remain there. That police officer has the power to remove your child from your care and place them in alternative accommodation, but only for a period of up to 72 hours. This could be in a foster placement or with a family member/friend. After that 72-hour period, either your child must be returned to your care, or if the local authority does not believe it would be safe for your child to return home, they will need to take further steps, as detailed in points 2 or 3 below.
In the absence of the police exercising their powers of protection, your child can only be removed from your care using one of the following two methods:
- By the granting of a court order. This is the most commonly used method. If the local authority believe that your child is at risk of significant harm in your care, they may apply to the court for an interim care order which may result in your child being removed from your care. There are two orders that the local authority may apply for:
a) An interim care order. The court can only make this order and approve the removal of your child from your care if there are reasonable grounds to believe your child is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm (physical, emotional, sexual, developmental) and the harm is caused by your care of the child.
b) An emergency protection order. The court can only make this order and approve the removal of your child if there are reasonable grounds to believe that your child is likely to suffer significant harm (as detailed above) if they are not moved to other accommodation (usually foster care) or, if they have already been removed, are not kept in that other accommodation. If an emergency protection order is made it lasts for only 8 days although it can be extended by another 7 days.
If the local authority makes an application to the court in respect of your child, you should be notified about the application and it is very important that you seek independent legal advice as a matter of urgency and you will be eligible for legal aid. You do not have to agree to the making of an order. You are entitled to oppose any application and the court will take into account what you have to say when it makes its decision.
- With your consent. The local authority may ask whether you agree to your child being removed from your care and this is referred to as giving ‘consent under section 20’. Section 20 of the Children Act 1989 also sets out how, in other circumstances, a local authority can provide accommodation for a child if:
a) The child is lost or abandoned;
b) The person caring for the child is unable to provide suitable care or accommodation; or
c) There is no person with parental responsibility for that child.
Section 20 is voluntary, and your child could be placed with local authority foster carers or with a family member (e.g. a grandparent). Whatever you might be told by a social worker, you do not have to agree to your child being voluntarily accommodated by a local authority. If you do not agree and the local authority believes your child should be removed, they will have to make an application to court.
If you have agreed to your child being voluntarily accommodated under section 20, you can withdraw your consent to this at any time meaning that the local authority must return the child to your care immediately. However, before withdrawing consent under section 20 you must consider whether the local authority would then commence court proceedings as described in point 1 above.
Parents must always seek independent legal advice before agreeing to accommodation of their child under section 20. It is very important that if you are asked to give such consent, you seek legal advice as soon as possible.
Here at Churchers Solicitors we have a team of experienced childcare lawyers who can advise and represent you in any of the above situations. We understand that the prospect of court proceedings concerning your child can be very frightening for you and we are here to support you through the legal process. You will be entitled to legal aid.
If you need our assistance, please contact us on 023 9221 0170.