Section 25 of the Children Act 1989 provides authority to the police to remove children where they have reasonable cause to believe that a child would be at risk of significant harm unless action is taken immediately the police officer may:
- remove the child from the situation and take them to a place of safety
- take action to prevent the child’s removal from a place of safety.
When a police officer has taken such action the child is deemed to be in police protection. No legal order from a court is necessary.
The child may remain in police protection for no longer than 72 hours.
The responsibilities of the police officer taking the child into police protection include:
- notifying the police ‘designated officer’
- informing the local authority children’s social care department
- informing the child (depending on capacity to understand) of the steps taken and the reasons for them, and attempting to discover the wishes and feelings of the child
- moving the child to local authority accommodation (or a refuge) if the child was initially taken elsewhere
- taking whatever steps are reasonably practicable to inform the child’s parents, anyone else with parental responsibility and anyone the child was living with immediately prior to being taken into police protection.
The responsibilities of the designated officer, who must be a senior officer of at least the rank of inspector, includes:
- inquiring into the case and discharging the child from police protection unless s/he feels the risk of significant harm continues
- applying for an emergency protection order (Children Act 1989, ss44-45). Whilst this can be done without the local authority’s knowledge or agreement, good practice indicates that there should be close communication with the revelant local authority children’s social care as soon as a child is taken into police protection.
- discharging a child from police protection. The decision to discharge should only be made when there has been a strategy discussion between the designated officer and the local authority.
When a child is taken in to police protection the police do not acquire parental responsibility but the designated officer must do whatever is reasonable to promote the child’s welfare.
N.B. Such power should only be used in an emergency. It is good practice whenever possible for the local authority to apply to the court for an Emergency Protection Order (Children Act 1989, ss.44-45) to safeguard a child.
Where a child is placed in local authority accommodation whilst subject to police protection, the local authority must allow contact with the following people providing it is considered both reasonable and in the child’s best interests:
- the parents
- anyone else with parental responsibility
- anyone the child was living with prior to the police protection
- anyone with an order allowing them contact with the child
- anyone acting on behalf of any of the above.
If the child is not in local authority accommodation then it is the role of the designated officer to allow such contact.
When the local authority children’s social care department is notified that a child has been placed in police protection they should convene a strategy discussion/meeting (within 24 hours) and undertake enquiries under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989 to assess the child’s needs and to determine whether an application for an Emergency Protection Order (Children’s Act 1989, ss.44-45) should be made.
The child’s wishes and feelings should be ascertained as soon as possible.
All steps and decisions should be clearly recorded and placed on the child’s local authority file including written evidence of police protection provided by the police officer or designated officer detailing the time, date and reasons for the police powers of protection being used.
Medical consent under police powers of protection
Police powers of protection do not remove parental responsibility from the parents or other person with parental responsibility, neither does the use of police powers of protection confer parental responisibilty for the child on the police officer or the local authority and medical decisions and consent for treatment or investigations still rest with them, unless an Emergency Protection Order (Children Act 1989, ss.44-45) is granted to the local authority and specifically addresses this issue.