§ Sir Richard Body
To ask the Secretary of State for Health what steps are being taken to ensure that there are no more cases of children being removed from their homes by social workers in unjustifiable circumstances.
§ Mrs. Virginia Bottomley
The Children Act, which will be implemented on 14 October, recasts the law on protecting children at risk to ensure that, when necessary, effective protective action can be taken within a framework of proper safeguards and reasonable opportunities for parents and others connected with the child to challenge such actions before a court.77W
The emergency protection order replaces the criticised place of safety order. Before granting such an order the court has to be satisfied the child is likely to suffer significant harm or cannot be seen in circumstances where the child might be suffering significant harm. The order has a maximum duration of eight days with a possible single extension of seven days. Where parents or certain other persons were not present when the emergency protection order was made they will have a right after 72 hours to apply to have the order discharged.
The Children Act introduces a new order, the child assessment order. Its purpose is to enable an assessment of a child to be made where significant harm is suspected but the child is not thought to be at immediate risk, where the local authority or other authorised person considers an assessment is required and where the parents are unwilling to co-operate. The order is intended to allow the local authority, or authorised person, to ascertain enough about the child's health or development or the way in which he has been treated to decide what further action, if any, is required.
These new orders will enable a balance to be struck between the rights of parents to bring up their children as they see fit and the duty of the state to intervene when necessary to safeguard the welfare of a child.
The Act also makes important changes to the use by local authorities of wardship and the High Court's inherent jurisdiction. If a local authority wishes to apply to a court for exercise of the High Court's inherent jurisdiction, it will first have to obtain leave of court to do so. Leave will be granted only if no statutory procedure is available under the Act which would achieve the desired result, and if there is reasonable cause to believe that the child is likely to suffer significant harm if inherent jurisdiction is not exercised.