Understandably, many parents become worried when Social Services want to speak to them about their care of their child or children. This can be quite a scary thought but, as a solicitor working with parents often in opposition to Social Services, the first and most important thing that a parent can do is try to work with or cooperate with a social worker.
If anyone makes a referral to Social Services about a child being possibly at risk of harm, Social Services must investigate this and make necessary enquiries. This means that they have to speak to the parent or parents, possibly the professionals involved with the children (ie the school) and a social worker may want to come to the child’s home.
If a social worker does come to the house, it is important that you let them in and that you are open and honest with them about the concerns they have raised. If you feel unable to let the social worker in to the house without a valid reason, the social worker is likely to become more concerned about the wellbeing of the child or children. They will question “Why wouldn’t they be let in? What is there to hide?”
If the social worker feels that the children or child might be at risk of significant harm (the legal test), they may ask for a child protection conference. A child protection conference is a meeting of professionals, called by Social Services because they are worried about the care of the child. As well as direct family members (usually just parents) the people who usually attend the child protection conferences are social workers, teachers, health visitors, school nurses and police officers. Others, such as doctors, hospital doctors, probation officers, or an educational social worker may also be present.
There are four main categories that can cause Social Services to worry and these are physical, sexual, emotional harm or neglect.
At a child protection conference, an independent chair will lead the discussions. This will not be the social worker and this is to ensure that each person’s opinion is heard and taken note of. This includes the parents. Each of the professionals in the meeting will update the group on how they feel the children are doing at home. At the end of this meeting, everyone apart from the independent chair and the parents will vote as to whether the children should be placed on a child protection plan.
If the children are placed on a child protection plan, a plan of action will be drawn up. This will have a list of things that the parents will be expected to do to ensure the child’s safety, and a list of things that the professionals will be doing.
If you have been told that there is to be a meeting about your child or children because concerns are so high that the local authority are considering issuing care proceedings, then provided you are a parent or person with parental responsibility, you are entitled to legal representation at that meeting and this will be covered by legal aid in full, regardless of your financial circumstances.