If there are concerns about child abuse, there are different sorts of Court orders that can be applied for to protect the child.
One order is called an emergency protection order (EPO) and this is used in extremely serious situations providing limited parental responsibility for the child to whomever has applied for the order and the right to remove the child from where they may be if it is believed they are at risk of significant harm.
It is standard for the Local Authority (who are usually the party who has issued the application for an EPO) to provide one day’s notice of their intention to the parents however there are circumstances whereby they do not have to give such notice if there are serious reasons and concerns that require immediate action by the Court. In the event that you as a parent have received such notice of an intention for an EPO you should obtain advice immediately from a solicitor and Legal Aid usually covers such advice. You do have a right to attend the hearing with legal representation to oppose the making of such an order.
Before the Court can make an EPO it must be satisfied that the child is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm unless they are removed from where they are currently or if the child is in hospital to remain where he/she is if the Local Authority believe they will suffer harm upon removal from the hospital. The Court has to be satisfied that making the Order is in the child’s best interests.
If the Court grants an EPO to the Local Authority they provide the Local Authority with the power to enter a premises to search for a child, to remove a child from the risk of harm or to keep a child at a certain premises whilst the Local Authority make efforts to investigate the situation fully or in some cases to then apply for a full care order (known as an ICO) to ensure ongoing safety. Whilst an EPO is in force the Local Authority do have a duty to ensure that contact is arranged to the parents of a child where it is safe for such contact to be arranged, although this is more likely to take the form of supervised contact, and to make efforts to seek expert assessment in the event that the child is suffering from a serious condition which has required medical intervention, which in some cases may have prompted the application for the EPO in the first instance.
The Local Authority must return a child to the parent as soon as it appears safe to do so. However an EPO can only last for 8 days and if the Local Authority remain concerned about the child’s safety they will issue an application for an ICO to ensure the ongoing safety whilst full assessments are carried out of the parents and family members which may not be possible to be undertaken in the 8 days allowed by an EPO.
There is no right of appeal against an EPO, however, a parent can apply to discharge it if the parent was not provided with notice of the hearing.
Legal Aid advice is available to parents facing an EPO application and advice from a solicitor should be sought upon confirmation that such action has been taken.