Whenever a police officer has reasonable cause to believe that a child would be at risk of significant harm unless action is taken immediately s/he 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 is necessary.
The child may be 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
- 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 include:
- inquiring into the case and releasing the child from police protection unless s/he feels the risk of significant harm continues
- applying for an emergency protection order. While this can be done without the local authority's knowledge or agreement, good practice indicates that there should be close communication with social services as soon as a child is taken into police protection.
When a child is placed in 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 when ever possible to seek approval of court.
Where a child is placed in local authority accommodation while 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 social services department is notified that a child has been placed in police protection they should undertake enquiries under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989 to determine whether an application for an emergency protection order should be made.
The police should notify social services as soon as possible after a child has been taken into police protection.
The child should be informed of the steps taken and reasons for them as soon as possible after being taken into police protection.
The child's wishes and feelings should be ascertained as soon as possible.
The child's parents, anyone with parental responsibility, and anyone the child was living with prior to police protection being taken out should be notified that the child is in police protection.
All steps and decisions should be clearly recorded and placed on the child's file including written evidence of police protection.