Legal Update: court guidance on dealing with child protection crises

Ed Mitchell on when a child can be removed from the parental home

Ed Mitchell on when a child can be removed from the parental home

Frontline social workers do not have the luxury of mulling over their response to a crisis. Rapid decision-making is required and that increases risk. Two recent Court of Appeal decisions provide guidance on the right response in high-pressure child protection cases.

Preventing a child’s removal from hospital

A v East Sussex CC (July 2010) concerned suspected factitious illness. During a seven-day hospital admission, a baby’s mother said he had twice stopped breathing. However, no one else witnessed anything.

The mother indicated that she would take her baby home. The hospital consultant said the infant’s risk of suffering significant harm, if he went home, was not “sufficiently close to zero to be discounted”.

In response, the authority arranged for the police to remove the child under emergency protection powers.

The Court of Appeal held that the police removal was lawful. They rejected the argument that an application to court for an emergency protection order (EPO) should have been made instead. The fact that two days after removal the child was allowed to go home with his exonerated mother did not render the removal unlawful.

The use of police powers was justified, given the consultant’s views and that an EPO application could not have been heard in time.

Separating parent and child on a change of interim care plan

Re S (Minors) (April 2010) concerned whether a mother had genuinely severed her relationship with an abusive partner.

An interim care order was granted on a care plan for the children to live with their mother.

The local authority later became concerned about whether the mother really intended to leave her partner.

The authority changed the interim care plan to one for removal of the children from the mother. A court endorsed the altered care plan and the children were removed.

The Court of Appeal held that the children’s removal was unlawful.

Separation of the children from their mother could only have been justified if the children’s safety demanded immediate separation. The evidence, however, did not show that this was the case.

Ed Mitchell is a solicitor and editor of Social Care Law Today

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