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Can social workers remove a child from home?

Social workers from children’s services departments cannot remove a child from their parent or carer to the care system unless either:

  • The Family Court has approved a plan for the child to be removed and made an order allowing children’s services to put that plan into action, or

1. The starting point – how children’s services should work with families:

Children’s services should always work in partnership with families to keep children safe and at home where possible. They should explore what help and support is available within the wider family and friends’ network.

2. If children’s services are worried a child may not be safe at home, they may decide they need to begin a pre-proceedings process:

During a pre-proceedings process, children’s services will assess the family and consider whether they need to begin care proceedings to keep the child safe. The parents or carers will have the chance to show whether they are able to care safely for their child. See our Pre-proceedings page for more information.

3. But if children’s services think immediate steps need to be taken to protect a child. They may:

  • Ask for a parent or carer, or another person with parental responsibility to agree to the child being cared for elsewhere under a voluntary arrangement. This could be with a relative or by unrelated foster carers for example.  See our Children in the care system under voluntary arrangements (section 20) page for further information about voluntary arrangements. And see our voluntary arrangements quick facts box at the end of this page which explains more about this
  • Ask the police to take steps to protect the child (police protection) if there is not time for children’s services to go to court for an order to protect the child. Or if the police reach the child first (for example, they are called to an emergency) they may simply exercise these powers
  • Ask the Family Court to make an urgent court order to protect the child, by removing them to the care of a relative. Or to unrelated carers. This could be an emergency protection order for example.

4. Or children’s services may start care proceedings so they can ask the Family Court to:

  • Consider a plan to keep a child safe and well cared for immediately (and, if necessary, any other children in the home). This could include a plan to remove the child
  • Make any court orders needed to help put that initial plan in place
  • Decide who the child should spend time with or be in touch with during the proceedings. This includes who they should see, how often and other such arrangements. This is often called contact arrangements
  • Make final decisions, at the end of the proceedings, about who the child should live, see or be in contact with
  • Decide what further information is needed to make those final decisions.

See our Care proceedings page for more information about urgent court orders that children’s services can seek, including emergency protection orders and interim care orders. Our Care proceedings page also provides more information about police protection.

5. How children’s services respond will depend on the precise situation. Whatever steps are taken, it will be important for any parent or carer to seek urgent legal advice:

  • Look for a solicitor who is a specialist in children law. Or who has Children Law Accreditation. To find a solicitor, search using the ‘how to find a solicitor’ function on the Law Society website.  See our Working with a solicitor guide on our Top tips and templates page for more information about finding  a solicitor
  • Parents and carers can also post a question for one of our expert advisers on our Advice Forums, and if needing further, more detailed or urgent advice
  • Contacts us – call Family Rights Group’s specialist legal and practice advice line on 0808 801 0366 (the advice line is open Monday to Friday, from 9.30 am to 3 pm excluding bank holidays).

6. And it is important to remember that children’s services:

  • Should work in partnership with children and families. See our Children’s services page for information about this
  • Should explore what help and support is available within the wider family and friends’ network. A family group conference can be a good way to do this
  •  A family group conference is a family-led, decision-making meeting. It brings together the whole family, and others who are important to the child. Together, at the conference, they make a plan for the child. See our Family group conferences: advice for families page for further information.

Voluntary arrangements: Quick facts for parents and other carers

  1. A child can be looked after in the care system under a voluntary arrangement only if someone with parental responsibility agrees. This must be real and voluntary agreement. It should be based on clear and accurate information
  2. But a child cannot be looked after in the care system under a voluntary arrangement if:
  • Someone with parental responsibility for the child objects and
  • That person can provide the child with a place to live themselves, or
  • They can arrange a place for the child to stay.
  1. The exception to this is if:
  • Someone who has a child arrangements order or special guardianship order for the child thinks the child should be (or continue to be) in a voluntary arrangement, or
  • The child is 16 or 17 and able to agree to remaining in the voluntary arrangement themselves.
  1. Children’s services do not have parental responsibility for any child who is looked after in a voluntary arrangement
  2. A child can be removed from a voluntary arrangement at any time by a parent who has parental responsibility. But the same exception in point 3. applies too
  3. If a parent (or carer) with parental responsibility is in a position to remove their child, no notice is required. No restrictions should put on the parent in relation to their right to remove their child.

For more information about voluntary arrangements, including more about who can agree to them and who can object, see our Children in the care system under voluntary arrangements (section 20) page.

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