Local Authorities Guidelines
This chapter includes:
- Summary of the Process
- What are Social Services looking for?
- Initial Assessment
- Core Assessment
- Child Protection Conference and Plan
- The Meeting
- Child Protection Plan
- Letter before Proceedings
- Court Proceedings
- Case Management Hearing
- Contested Removal Hearing
- Issues Resolution Hearing
- Final hearing
- CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service)
If Social Services have approached you about your children it can be because either:
- Someone has told them that they think your children are being hurt or are not being cared for properly, or
- You or your partner have had children removed from your care and you are having another child.
Any individual can call Social Services to inform them of any children they think are being abused. It is important to note that Social Services have a legal duty to investigate this. They do not seek to remove children from families; rather, they must make sure that the child is safe and properly cared for.
Summary of the Process
When a child is referred to Social Services, an Initial Assessment will be completed one of under three categories:
- A ‘file closed’ case where Social Services will leave
- An offer of support and help
- A Core Assessment
Once a Core Assessment is completed, there are three possible outcomes; either:
- The file is closed and Social Services leave, or
- Social services decide to monitor and review the family, or
- Social services decide to have a Child Protection Conference where:
- The child will be put on a Child Protection Plan
- Legal Proceedings will start
What are Social Services looking for?
- Emotional Abuse,
- Physical Abuse,
- Sexual Abuse
For more information on this please follow the link to Step 1 Social Services.
Once Social Services have received a referral they must make an initial assessment. A Social Worker may wish to speak to a parent on the phone or to visit the family. Often a Social Worker may wish to call and visit in order to see if the children are suffering or likely to suffer one or more types of abuse.
- If the Social Worker finds that the child or children are safe and looked after they will close their file and leave
- But, if the Social Worker believes that the child/ren may be suffering or likely to suffer harm they may:
- Decide to offer the family some help and assistance or,
- Carry out a Core Assessment.
The Core Assessment will inform the Local Authority of
- How they can protect the children, and
- Parents’ ability to care for the child/ren, and
- Information on the family and home.
A Social Worker will:
- Speak to parents, partners, and children.
- Visit the children’s home,
- Speak to the children’s Doctor, Health visitor, the hospital
- Speak to child/children’s teachers if they are at school, and
- Contact the Police to see if they have any information on parents, partners or children.
Based on this information they will then make a decision about the welfare of the child and write a report.
The decisions that they could make are:
- To close the case, or
- To keep an eye on the family to see if conditions improve, or
- To escalate to a Child Protection Conference
Social Services’ decision is based on how bad things are, and whether the parents or people caring for the children understand and are willing to work with them to improve the situation.
Child Protection Conference and Plan
This is a meeting where Social Services will make a plan for the family about what needs to be done in order to protect the children.
People who can be at this meeting include:
- Persons caring for the children i.e. foster carers, step parents, relatives,
- The child or children
- Child’s or children’s social worker,
- Doctors or Nurses or Health Visitors,
- Probation Workers,
These type of meetings are sometimes referred to as ‘Multi-Agency’ meetings.
- A Chair will be appointed to the meeting and will lead the meeting
- Once the meeting starts notes will be taken. These notes are often referred to as the ‘minutes’ and will be given to everyone who attended the meeting.
- Everyone attending will be invited to focus on:
- What has happened so far,
- What is happening and,
- What needs to be done in order to keep the child or children safe.
After the meeting Social Services may decide to:
- Make a Child Protection Plan (for more information please read step 1)
- Start legal proceedings
Child Protection Plan
A Child Protection Plan is a document that will inform everyone at the meeting:
- What type of harm the child or children are suffering,
- What needs to be done,
- Who needs to do it,
- When it is to be done by,
- Any help or assistance needed, and
- What will happen if things do not get better
After a Protection Plan has been created
- A Child Protection Plan will be reviewed after three months, and then every six months
- These reviews will look at what has happened/changed and if the plan is working or if anything needs to be changed.
- If there has been an improvement and the children are no longer at risk, Social Services may decide to take the children off the plan.
- Social Services will then decide whether to stay involved with the family, or if it is necessary to close their file.
- However, if conditions for the child have not improved Social Services will then start legal proceedings
Tips for the meeting
- Stay calm.
- Understand what is going on and what they want you to do.
- Ask questions as you must know what is required of you.
- Ask for help if necessary.
- Speak to our specialist Legal Aid Team who will help advise you.
Letter before Proceedings
Prior to going to court you will be given a letter called “letter before proceedings”. This is your opportunity to convince Social Services not to start court proceedings. If you have received a letter that says this, it is very important that you consult a Family Law legal team.
This letter will state:
“PLEASE DO NOT IGNORE THIS LETTER
TAKE IT TO A SOLICITOR NOW
The Council making the inquiry
This letter will contain a lot of information such as:
- The date and time that they have planned the pre-proceedings meeting that you must attend along with your solicitor
- A list of their concerns,
- Help that they have offered and
- What action you need to take in order to prevent being taken to court.
You need to look at the list of concerns and see what you can do or what you have done in order to tackle the concerns stated.
- Your Solicitor will then give you advice about the meeting and what can happen.
- Those attending the meeting will be: the child’s mother, the child’s father (if on the birth certificate), their solicitors, the child’s social worker, the social worker’s manager, and the social worker’s solicitor.
At the meeting they will go through the letter and discuss what they are concerned about. You will then have the opportunity to speak and explain what you are doing or going to do in order to resolve the issues raised.
At the end of the meeting the Social Workers and their Solicitor will have talked about what they want to do next. Their options are:
- Not to take further action
- To monitor and review.
- If the risk to the child is not as high as first thought they may decide to continue reviewing your family and monitor the situation to ensure that things continue to improve.
- To start court proceedings
- The law states that a case should be heard within 26 weeks (6 months) of starting, unless there are exceptional reasons. Cases are heard in a Family Court.
It is really important to take part in the court process and instruct your lawyer right from the start, in order to work out what you need to do to be able to show you can safely care for your child by the end of the case.
Case Management Hearing
- This is a short hearing to decide how and when the case is going to be decided.
- The court will make directions in order to get all the information it needs and, to allow everyone involved to have their say by requesting a statement in writing or providing evidence.
- This might include saying that certain assessments of the parents or children should be carried out.
- Where there are more than one of these types of hearings they are called “further case management hearings”.
Contested Removal Hearing
- If Social Services wish to remove a child or children and the parents do not agree, the court will hold a hearing to decide if the children should be removed or not.
- The court will hear some evidence from the social worker, guardian and the parents. The length and format will depend on the circumstances, however they normally take a full day.
Issues Resolution Hearing
- Once all of the evidence is gathered and Social Services have stated their final plans the court will hold an Issues Resolution Hearing to see if some or all of the issues can be agreed.
- At this point a parent may agree that a child should go and live with a relative
- If everything is agreed the court can make final orders and finish the case.
- However, if anyone doesn’t agree with the plans the court will list a Final Hearing.
- At a final hearing the court will hear all the evidence and the parents can challenge the plans through their lawyers asking questions of the witnesses.
- These hearings typically take days rather than hours, however each case can vary
CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service)
- The court will appoint a guardian for the child from CAFCASS as children are entitled to their own legal representatives, who look after their interests in the case.
- CAFCASS is independent of social services and comes at no cost to the parent/s
- The guardian will choose and give instructions to the lawyer representing the child about what is best for them and what the child wants.
- If a child is old enough and disagrees with the guardian they might be helped to instruct their own solicitor.
- However, it is the guardian’s job to give an independent view of the parents and of social services to help the court work out what is in the child’s best interests.
While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information provided in this article, it does not constitute legal advice and cannot be relied upon as such. Each legal case and issue may have unique facts and circumstances, as a result legalally does not accept any responsibility for liabilities arising as a result of reliance upon the information provided. For further help and guidance, you can always rely on and seek advice from our experienced lawyers.