The very mention of social services is enough to send a chill down the spine of most parents. Stories abound of children being taken into care for seemingly trivial reasons, but this is rarely the case. There are strict processes to follow, and contact with social services shouldn’t be a bad experience. They’re actually there to help.
What Do They Do?
Social services have a statutory obligation to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in the area they cover. They’re usually attached to the local authority, and only have involvement in families if they’ve been alerted to concerns around child safety.
This can be as a result of referral from any one of a number of individuals. Social services can be notified by concerned friends or neighbours, relatives, doctors, teachers or other professionals that have involvement with the child. Sometimes social services are even brought in by the parents if they’re having difficulty coping.
It’s perfectly understandable to feel anxious when social services make contact with you. Usually this will be nothing more than a section 47 enquiry. This is a device that allows them to look into your situation and assess if your child’s needs are being met. You’ll be interviewed, as will others who have contact with the child, and a decision will be reached. It may be that no further action is taken, or an offer of help and support will be made.
Sometimes they may be sufficiently concerned that you’ll go onto the next stage assessment where, once again, it may be that no further action is taken. Alternatively, they may take the decision to monitor the wellbeing of your child over a longer period. In extreme circumstances, a child protection conference may be proposed.
The Child Protection Conference
This is a meeting at which all those with concerns or interests in the child will have input. It would be advisable to have legal representation in such a situation but, as a parent, you will be consulted and kept informed.
The outcome of this meeting could be the implementation of a child protection plan. Again, this does not necessarily mean you’ll lose your child. Most children will still live at home, but you’ll receive further support from social workers. If the child is deemed to be at serious risk, this is the stage at which legal proceedings can begin.
Social services can only remove a child from its parents if there is clear evidence the child is going to suffer serious harm if it remains. In order to do this, there must be a court order in place instructing them to do so.
If social services consider a child to be in immediate danger, they can take it into police protection, but the child has to be returned within 48 hours if they fail to secure an emergency protection order through the courts.
Who Can I Get in Touch With?
If you’re worried about social services becoming involved with your child, it’s a good idea to get legal help to guide you through the process. For more information take a look at this guide from Wilson Browne Solicitors titled “A Guide to Children, Social Services & Legal Proceedings”. This will give a clear overview of everything you can expect and the best course of action moving forward.