Happy New Year to you all! I am sorry that the first few days of the New Year have passed without any posts on this blog but this has been due to a quite astonishing workload having been thrown my way including in the traditionally dead time between Christmas and New Year. Myself and my colleagues in chambers have been rushed off our feet and the Clerks are complaining about the quantities of work they are having to turn away. There are, of course, natural peaks and flows in our workload. But the current upsurge is not due to the predicted post Christmas divorce peak which, if it in fact happens which I doubt, would not filter down to the Bar until much later in the Year, but in my opinion, to a post baby P anxiety on the part of local authorities. It is one of the reasons I felt the need to refresh my article on removing children on an interim basis . I have been pleased and flattered to be turning up to court quite regularly to find people thrusting copies of it in my direction and cutting and pasting it into their submissions! I am glad to see it is of use. It does seem that local authorities are more frequently wanting the oversight of the court on their decisions to remove or not to remove, nervous no doubt about making or being accused of making the wrong judgment calls.
The point of my article is to emphasise just how difficult it can be to justify removal on an interim basis. That does not mean to say that it cannot ever be justified. Or that it is wrong for local authorities to continue to ask if parents will agree to children being removed on a s 20 basis. I would encourage all social workers to consult their legal departments when considering their proposed interim care plans and for legal departments in turn to seek advice from Counsel if they are to be instructed. I would also advise that local authorities should have much clearer policies about how to go about conversations with parents when seeking removal. For example, it would be prudent always to ensure that the parent is advised to seek legal advice (particularly if proceedings have already been issued and removal is a change in the care plan). Parents often report that they feel under pressure to agree to removal because of the threat of an EPO or proceedings. Lawyers and social workers may know that this has to receive the sanction of the court and it is difficult to strike the right balance between threatening and being realistic. It would perhaps be sensible to say that if the parent does not agree the social worker will consult with her managers and take legal advice about whether to ask the court to sanction removal and the timescale in which that would be done. It would be equally sensible, in a case where urgency dictates that the PLO approach cannot be pursued, to hand over a document along the lines of the letter before action so that the parent knows the essential case against them and particularly the reasons why the local authority think the time for removal has come.
It is never easy to say what cases will justify removal and it is important to analyse the evidence in each case carefully, but it may be easier to see the potential for justification in cases such as when a parent has a mental health problem or a drug or alcohol addiction that means their behaviour and cooperation level is unpredictable or when there is a serious unexplained injury and the provisional view is that it is not accidental or when a parent repeatedly declines to allow access and does not cooperate with the child protection plan. Other less frequently encountered cases might be where the child is out of control or is expressing a clear wish not to remain in the home or there has been a prolonged period of failure to thrive.
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