Social Services have a duty under the Children Act to protect vulnerable children and if any report is made to them that a child has suffered harm or is likely to suffer harm that is significant they are duty bound to investigate and, if they consider appropriate, will start what are termed Care Proceedings.
This can be a very frightening and intimidating process for parents who may well be deeply upset by any injury their child may have suffered or who may dispute the allegations made about the safety or welfare of their child.
Where there are child protection concerns we can assist either children or parents:
- Children - we are frequently appointed by a Court Appointed Representative called a ‘Children's Guardian' to represent the interests of children in Care Proceedings.
- Parents - we represent parents who are involved in Care Proceedings. Any parent facing such an investigation should urgently obtain legal advice about their position as decisions made early on can affect the future conduct of the proceedings and ultimately what is to happen to the children in due course. Anyone facing such an investigation should be aware of the following:
Child Protection Meetings
If the Local Authority has concerns about the child they will normally convene a Child Protection Meeting inviting all those professionally concerned with the child including the parents and, if the parents have legal representation or a friend who can accompany them, then they too will be invited to the Child Protection Meeting.
Such meetings take place at Social Services Offices, will frequently last for between two to three hours and will be attended by upwards of ten people. The purpose of the meeting is to identify what has happened in relation to any child, what are the risks being faced and the meeting has to determine whether or not the child's name should be placed on the Child Protection Register. That is a decision taken by the Social Services Department in conjunction with the other professionals attending the meeting who could include Police, Education and Health representatives. A child can be categorised at being in need of being placed on the Child Protection Register if they have suffered actual harm or are likely to suffer harm from neglect or physical, sexual or emotional abuse.
The registration of a child on the Child Protection Register does not necessarily mean that a child will be removed from his or her parents. The Local Authority is duty bound to consider what services could be provided to the child and his or her family to avoid the need for the child to be taken into care. It is only if the risks to the child are too great that any form of Care Proceedings would normally be contemplated by the Social Services Department.
Emergency Protection Measures
Sometimes a report is made to Social Services that the child is in immediate danger and there is insufficient time for a Social Worker to convene a Child Protection Meeting. In those circumstances either the Police or Social Services can take emergency protective action. A senior police officer can authorise a Police Protection Order that will authorise a police officer to remove a child who is considered to be in danger. Social Services then normally become immediately involved. If Social Services wish to take direct action then they can apply to the Court for an Emergency Protection Order that may authorise them to keep a child for an initial period of eight days followed by a further period of seven days. This can only be done if authorised by a Court who will want to be informed what arrangements will take place for the child to remain in contact with his or her parents if the child is to be removed. The Court has to be satisfied before authorising such an Order that there is reasonable cause to believe that the child is likely to suffer significant harm if protective measures are not put in place.
It is vital in these circumstances that parents secure legal representation at any hearing and to consider how any concerns of the Social Services Department could be met for example by the child being placed with another family member on a short term basis if there is an unexplained injury, and while investigations are being undertaken.
With National Adoption Week drawing to a close we thought it would be wise to reflect on the challenge that is adoption (see below) and the steps that local authorities, government and charitable organisations are taking to improve the process. …
Exeter based family solicitor and Director at The Family Law Company by Hartnell Chanot, Stephen Sowden, has been invited to become a Trustee of the Grandparents’ Association. Stephen is a specialist children lawyer focusing on Grandparents’ rights, care proceedings and adoption. …