What are a mother’s rights when Children’s Services are involved with her child because of domestic violence?
The mother has parental responsibility for her child which means she has the legal right to make decisions about how her child is raised. However, if Children’s Services have concerns about her child safety and well-being, they can specify what needs to happen to ensure her child is kept safe within a child protection planning framework. If she does not do what they stipulate, they may apply to court for a care order or emergency protection order. This would give them the right to remove the child from her care and to decide how her child should be cared for in future.
For more information about parental responsibility see the FRG advice sheet on parental responsibility.
Working in partnership
When a social worker is involved, they should work in an open and transparent way with a mother, establish her views and share all relevant information with her except where this would place her child at risk of harm.
Partnership working is very important during child protection processes when the mother may feel that others are making decisions for her child despite her parental responsibility. She may benefit from advice and advocacy to help her understand the situation, take part in meetings and have her say. Advocacy/support can also help her understand concerns and find a way of working with professionals to reduce concerns.
Access to information
The mother has a right to see information held by Children’s Services about her and her family (under the Data Protection Act 1998) and to see non-personal information (under the Freedom of Information Act 2000). Children’s Services can refuse to provide her with information in certain specific situations. If this happens the mother should ask for a written explanation about why this information is being withheld and seek further advice and/or make a complaint. This process is explained in more detail in FRG advice sheet on access to records held by Children’s Services.
Keeping personal information confidentiaty
A mother who has experienced domestic violence may be particularly worried about the perpetrator (and perhaps his family) having personal information about her or her child. She may be especially concerned about keeping her address confidential. You could support her to tell the social worker if her address is confidential and that she wants to be consulted about any plans her social worker has to share information about her before it happens. She could also ask that any decision to share information is made by a manager and that she is told what information is to be shared, with whom and why.
There is a more extensive advice about this issue in FRG’s online FAQs for mothers.
A mother has a right to make a complaint if she is in unhappy with any of the decisions or services provided by their social worker or Children’s Services or if she and her child are not getting the support they need. Children’s Services must deal with complaints promptly and in line with specific timescales.
You can find information about the complaints process and useful tips for making a complaint in FRG advice sheet on challenging decisions and making complaints.