Why do Children's Services need to be involved when a mother has experienced domestic violence?
Children’s Services are responsible for supporting children who have specific needs, protecting children who are at risk of being harmed and providing foster care or residential care for children who cannot live with their families or friends, either temporarily or permanently.
Research evidence indicates that children of any age (including unborn babies) can be affected by domestic violence in different ways. Children’s Services may be concerned that the domestic violence could result in the children being physically hurt and/or emotionally harmed. The damage caused by domestic violence is specifically included in the legal definition of harm to a child.
Safeguarding children is everybody's responsibility. It can be helpful when supporting a mother who has Children's Services' involvement to reflect on why the social worker may be worried that the child's needs aren't being met. This could be for many different reasons.
You may be able to help her think through some of the issues and understand that she and the professionals share the same aim – to keep her child safe - and that by working together this can happen.
Of course, social workers also need to think about how protecting mothers protects children and to address the father's violence. This is explored in more detail in FAQs section for social workers.
Your role as a domestic violence practitioner can be invaluable, not only in supporting the mother to make safe and informed choices but also in helping the professional network around the family to understand the complex issues involved and the different challenges women often face when affected by domestic violence.
I am working with a mother whose child is being assessed by a social worker. How can I help explain the different assessment procedures?
It might be helpful to have an overview of the range of processes involved.
Children’s Services must follow certain procedures when they are working with children and their families. They must decide within one working day of receiving information about a child whether or not to do an assessment and, if so, what type of assessment they should do.
It is a good idea to support the mother to ask the social worker if they are doing an assessment because they think the child needs support (they may be a child in need) or because they are concerned that the child may be at risk of significant harm (in which case they will make child protection enquiries).
Assessments should usually be completed within 45 working days.
You can ask the social worker for a copy of:
- the local threshold documents which they will be following (when deciding whether the child’s needs should be assessed and if they should be offered services) and
- the local protocols for assessment (for how assessments will be managed).
They must also follow government guidance in Working Together to Safeguard Children 2015.
The mother should be fully involved in all assessments as described above and should receive a written copy of the assessment. Both she and her child should be considered as individuals and their family structure, culture, religion, and ethnic origin should be respected.