A knock at the door from social services is most parents’ worst nightmare, but it doesn’t have to be a disaster. Understanding the process and getting the right advice can make a big difference to the outcome for your family.
It is important to understand why social services have become involved in the first place. Social Services have a duty to protect children in their area and must investigate all referrals. They will also become involved with you if you have had other children removed from your care and then have another child.
Where do they get their information from?
Referrals to social services often come from other organisations such as schools, hospitals or the police. These organisations have to work together by law and tell social services if they are worried about a child.
For example, if the police are called to a domestic argument where children are at home they have to report to social services even if the children were not involved.
Members of the public can also call social services if they are worried about a child. Wherever the information comes from, if social services think there could be a risk to a child, they have to investigate.
First contact with social services
You may not agree that there is anything for social services to worry about but following the referral, a social worker will either call or visit you.
It’s really important that you ask questions and get the social worker to explain their concerns and expectations from the start. You should also calmly explain your side of the story and let them know if you feel they have got anything wrong.
Asking for help
Asking for help is never easy but if you need anything, now’s the time to speak up. For example, you may have housing problems or your child may be struggling at school. Being honest with the social worker and showing you’re willing to improve things for your family can give the reassurance needed to stop things going further.
Believe it or not, that knock at the door could actually work in your favour and get you the help you’ve been waiting for.
What happens next?
Once the social worker has spoken to you, they may be happy that the children are safe and well with you and close their file.
However, if they still think your children may be at risk or your family needs further help, they will continue to monitor things. They may also offer support if they think it is necessary. You may be invited to attend meetings with social services.
The process can take time and can be stressful. Hard as it is, we would advise that you co-operate with social services wherever possible. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything they say but co-operating shows you can work with them in the best interests of your children.
When to contact us
We will take your case on when it gets to a ‘legal stage’ (see below) but you can contact us at any point if you are worried about social services and your family.
Also, if you are asked to sign something to allow your children to be placed away from you (known as a section 20 agreement) please contact us immediately for advice.
The legal process
If social services believe that the concerns have not been addressed and your children are at risk of ‘significant harm’ then they will consider taking the matter to court and starting care proceedings.
If social services are considering care proceedings they should write to you asking you to attend a meeting with a solicitor. They will send a clear letter that starts ‘PLEASE DO NOT IGNORE THIS LETTER. TAKE IT TO A SOLICITOR NOW’. This is known as a ‘pre-proceedings’ or ‘notice of intention’ letter.
In some cases, social services will feel the matter is so urgent that they must go straight to court without having a meeting with you and your solicitor first. The social worker will inform you if this is the case.
If you receive such a letter or your social worker tells you they are going to take your case to court, please contact us immediately on 020 8768 6849.
Funding your case
If you receive a ‘notice of intention’ letter (as above) you will automatically be eligible for free legal advice. If the local authority take care proceedings and you are the parent, you will automatically be eligible for legal aid, no matter what your income.
Our team of lawyers at QualitySolicitors Amphlett Lissimore in Crystal Palace, Camberwell, Raynes Park and Bromley has had years of experience and includes solicitors on the Children Panel. This means that our solicitors specialise in care proceedings. We work closely with a range of experts, support services and residential units to give you the fair chance you deserve to achieve the best possible outcome for you and your family.