Department for Community Based Services

Standards of Practice Online Manual

11.20 Emergency Custody Order (ECO)

Cabinet for Health and Family Services

Department for Community Based Services
Division of Protection and Permanency
Standards of Practice Online Manual
Chapter 11-CPS Court
11.20 Emergency Custody Order (ECO)

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Legal Authority/Introduction


An emergency custody order (ECO) is effective for no more than seventy-two (72) hours, exclusive of weekends and holidays, unless there is a temporary removal hearing, as outlined in SOP 11.15 Temporary Removal Hearing, held by the court to determine if the child shall be held for a longer period.  The seventy-two (72) hour period may be extended or delayed upon the waiver or request of the child’s parent or person exercising custodial control or supervision of the child.


The SSW:

  1. Requests an emergency custody order (ECO) from a district, juvenile or family court judge, in conjunction with the utilization review consultation (UR) process in the following situations:
    1. The child is in danger of imminent death or serious physical injury or is being sexually abused; or
    2. The parent has repeatedly inflicted or allowed to be inflicted by other than accidental means physical injury or emotional injury.  Reasonable and ordinary discipline is acceptable as long as reasonable and ordinary discipline does not result in abuse or neglect as defined in KRS 600.020; or
    3. The child is in immediate danger due to the parent’s failure or refusal to provide for the safety or needs of the child;
  2. Files the petition and other documentation as required by the court;
  3. Determines whether the local judge wants the SSW to tender an Administrative Office of the Court (AOC) form partially or fully completed with the relevant information pertaining to that child for the judge's signature;
  4. Determines where the child is located at the time of the ECO and formulates a plan to take physical custody of the child in a way that is the least traumatic for the child to include contacting law enforcement personnel to physically remove the child;
  5. Provides a copy of When Your Child is Removed From Your Home-Guide for Parents to the custodial parent(s) upon removal;
  6. Secures law enforcement assistance if entry is denied or the parents refuse to relinquish the child;
  7. Files the original ECO, upon signature by the judge, with the court clerk’s office; 1  2
  8. Retains a copy of the ECO and files the copy in the child’s case record.

Practice Guidance

  • The court for the county where the child ordinarily resides or will reside, or the county where the child is present may issue an ex parte emergency custody order when:
    • It appears to the court that removal is in the best interest of the child;
    • There are reasonable grounds to believe, as supported by affidavit or by recorded sworn testimony, that the child is at risk of imminent harm; and
    • The parents or other person exercising custodial control or supervision of the child are unable or unwilling to protect the child.
  • The judicial determination that results in the child's removal must coincide with (i.e., occur at the same time as) the Cabinet's action to physically or constructively remove the child, unless the court order specifies an alternative timeframe for removal. 
  • If a court makes a judicial determination that it is contrary to the child's welfare to remain at home (without specifying an alternative timeframe) and the child does, in fact, remain at home and no removal occurs, the requirement for removal is not met and the child is ineligible for title IV-E.
  • If the child's safety is not at risk and the court chooses to order in home services to prevent having to remove the child, it should do so.
  • States cannot issue "blanket" removal orders in an attempt to guarantee title IV-E eligibility in the event that the child has to be removed from the home at some point in the future.
  • The court may take into account the wishes of the parent or person exercising custodial control of the child and place the child with a relative, or any other appropriate person or agency, including the Cabinet.
  • The AOC is responsible for completing the notice of emergency removal (dependency action), and providing it to the parent, guardian or other person with legal custody via the sheriff or authorized designee to:
    • Serve the parent or other person exercising custodial control or supervision with a copy of the ECO; or
    • Make a good faith effort to notify the nearest known relative, neighbor or other person familiar with the child if such person cannot be found.
  • It is strongly advised that the SSW secure law enforcement personnel assistance when taking physical custody of a child.
  • If the emergency is such that no law enforcement personnel are available, the SSW may remove the child with the ECO if it can be accomplished without placing the worker or child in jeopardy.
  • If a petition is filed and a child is not removed in an emergency situation, a dependence information sheet is completed and provided to the parent or custodial person by the clerk’s office when the petition is filed. 
  • The SSW does not assume responsibility for delivering this document to the parents.


  1. The court clerk’s office arranges for a person authorized to serve process (e.g. sheriff) to present a copy to the parent or other person exercising custodial control or supervision of the child.
  2. Family Court Rule 19(2) prohibits the removal of a child based on a judge's verbal order.


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