While Social Services play an important role in ensuring the safety and well-being of children in our community, it is completely natural for parents to feel anxious at the thought of Social Services becoming involved with their children.
We are regularly contacted by parents who are anxious at the thought of Social Services becoming involved with their family and we advise on the steps that can be taken to ensure that children remain in parental care. Here are some frequently asked questions:-
Why would Social Services get involved with my children?
A Social Worker can become involved with your family in many ways:
- You may directly request support from Social Services in times of stress or for help regarding a particular child or family problem you have.
- Teachers, Health Visitors, GPs or other professionals working with your family or children may make a referral to Social Services if they have any concerns about a child.
- Any person, whether known to you or anonymous, who is concerned about the treatment of your child can make a referral to Social Services seeking that they investigate matters.
- It is also common for the Police to refer matters to Social Services, for example in instances where domestic violence between adults could potentially result in harm to the children.
What happens if I am reported to Social Services?
Once Social Services are made aware of concerns, they have a duty to investigate and decide if further action needs to be taken to safeguard any child. There can be varying degrees of the involvement Social Services can have:
After an initial assessment, it may be decided there is no risk of significant harm to a child but that some support is required to help you and your family through a difficult time. A Social Worker may be allocated to your family to provide some support, identify strategies to deal with any parenting issues and act as a signpost to community resources which may assist your family.
If the Trust feel that there is evidence that your child is at risk of significant harm, they may commence child protection procedures. A Child Protection Conference would be convened to decide whether your child needs to registered on the Child Protection Register under one or more of the following categories:-
- Physical harm
- Emotional harm
- Sexual harm
Various professionals involved with your child would be invited to an initial Case Conference, along with you as parents, to discuss the concerns that have arisen and to give their view on whether your child should be placed on the Child Protection Register.
If your child is placed on the Child Protection Register, the plan is reviewed every 6 months, with parents, more often than not being expected to engage in work outlined in the Child Protection plan to address the issues that have caused the safeguarding concerns. At any future review, your child could be deregistered from the Child Protection Register if it is agreed by all professionals involved that there is no longer a risk of significant harm.
If Social Services believe that your child is at risk of suffering significant harm, they can (if certain criteria are satisfied) apply to the Court and request a Care Order. These proceedings are known as care proceedings. If these proceedings are issued, Social Services may apply for an order to have your child removed from your care and placed either with other family members or in foster care, while the Court is deciding a longer-term plan for your child.
If you receive paperwork about Court proceedings involving your child, it is important you seek urgent legal advice to discuss the options available to you. You will be entitled to legal aid to cover the costs of your legal representation in these proceedings.
How long do care proceedings take?
Each case is different - the length of Court proceedings can depend on many factors including any work or assessments which must be completed by parents with the assistance of Social Services or other professionals. However, under the law, the Court has to draw up a timetable for managing the case so that it makes decisions without undue delay.
Can I stop Social Services from taking my child?
If Social Services become concerned about the welfare of your child, they may arrange a meeting with both parents to see if it is possible to reach agreement about what needs to happen to protect your child from harm, so that Court proceedings can be avoided. This meeting is known as a pre-proceedings meeting.
The Social Worker will send both parents a letter inviting them to attend at this meeting. This letter will also set out in detail and in plain language exactly what the concerns are and exactly what Social Services suggest should be done to deal with these concerns and avoid Court proceedings. It is very important for parents to attend at a pre-proceedings meeting with Social Services and you are entitled to legal aid to cover having a solicitor with you at this meeting.
Even if a pre proceedings meeting does not take place, it may be possible to agree a safety plan for your child to avoid Social Services taking Court action. You should therefore seek legal advice at the earliest opportunity if you are concerned that Social Services will remove your children from your care.
Can Social Services stop me from seeing my child?
If your child is removed from your care by virtue of an Interim Care Order being made, during Court proceedings Social Services have a duty to allow you and your child reasonable contact with one another. This contact may be refused by Social Services where they are satisfied that it is necessary to stop contact in order to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare. Any refusal to allow contact must be decided on as a matter of urgency and should not last any more than seven days.
As a parent, if you are not satisfied with the contact arrangements made by Social Services, you can make an application for contact to the Court.
It is important you seek legal advice about your options surrounding contact.
Does a Care Order last forever?
A Care Order will remain in place until your child reaches adulthood.
If there is a change in your circumstances at any stage which would lead to there no longer being a risk of significant harm to your child, you have the option of applying for the Care Order to be discharged which can allow the child to be returned to your care.
It is again important that you seek legal advice on how to make steps to seek such a discharge.
Francis Hanna & Co Solicitors have been representing clients for decades in relation to cases involving Social Services and where there is a risk of children being removed from parental care. We have the knowledge, skill and experience to help parents navigate this difficult process and can provide strong, strategic and child-focused advice to ensure that their rights remain protected.