Councils are increasingly turning to other types of court orders to remove children in child protection proceedings after senior judges warned social workers that care applications should only be used as a method of last resort.

The development was revealed by new Cafcass chief Jacky Tiotto, during an interview with Children and Young People Now (CYP Now) magazine.

According to Tiotto, there has been a marked increase in requests for orders for deprivation of liberty, secure accommodation and emergency protection during child protection proceedings.

The finding raises serious concerns about whether social services are making false allegations around service users’ mental health in order to remove children from parents.

Emergency protection orders are only to be used in the most serious circumstances and give councils the right to remove children from their parents if there are concerns around child abuse. These orders can also limit a birth parent’s responsibilities towards their child.

Secure accommodation orders allow councils to place children in residential placement units where they can be stopped from leaving, and have been criticised by judges and other legal professionals because of the way in which they impact human rights like freedom of movement. These orders are usually only used in cases where there appears to be a risk of gang violence, child sexual exploitation and child trafficking.

Deprivation of liberty orders have also gained international media attention because of the way these orders impact children’s human rights under Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and are closely linked to secure accommodation orders.

Care applications however, dropped more than 5% from last year.

The drop has been attributed to a shift in social work practice, which now requires social workers to look at care applications and adoptions as the last port of call, rather than the first option in child protection proceedings.

Several senior judges have published judgments relating to child protections cases in order to raise awareness around the need to keep children with their parents wherever possible. The judgements were also made public to confirm the law and policy in this area, which makes it clear that removing children from parents must only happen if all other avenues have failed and only if that removal is genuinely in the best interest of the child in the case.

Despite the warnings, child protection professionals, perhaps desperate to keep their jobs as budget cuts continue to squeeze councils, now appear to be looking to other orders to secure removals.

Tiotto told CYP Now that Cafcass would be working to find out the reasons for the unusual rise in the different types of orders:

“What’s been understood from that drop in care applications is that the public law system is less busy – but it isn’t.

“Behaviour is changing in terms of what [orders] people are going into court for and we need to understand why that is.

“We will be prioritising work to understand that.

“I think in enough authorities people are looking for different solutions for children that may not be public care.

“I’d be surprised if that’s not what we find when we look at the data.”

There is clearly a conflict of interest in a social work organisation taking on this task, and we would like to see an independent body reviewing the data.

Whatever research is conducted though, the investigators will need to look at:

  • The life of these cases and whether these orders ultimately lead to children being permanently removed from their parents at a later stage,
  • The cases involved and the kind of evidence gathering that’s taken place,
  • Which courts these cases are being heard in, paying attention to Court of Protection applications (a Court which remains largely closed off from the public) and;
  • The internal management issues facing each local authority engaged in placing submissions for these orders.