1. Social workers do not have the power to remove your child from your care, unless this is ordered by the court or you agree that your child should be removed.
If there is any suggestion that your child cannot remain in your care you should immediately get legal advice from a solicitor specialising in children's law or contact Family Rights Group advice line.
2. Most children who have a child protection plan live at home.
Your child's social worker's job is to work with you to make things better for your child at home. This should include them involving your wider family to see what help they can give you to keep your child safe, for example helping you have a break by having your child to stay from time to time.
3. Unless there is an emergency, social workers should not apply to court for an order saying that they can remove your child without first letting you know that they plan to do this and working very hard with you to improve the situation for your child.
But it is important to understand that if you do not do what is expected of you, and if the concerns about your child's well-being are not resolved, or even increase, then social workers may start to think that your child should not remain in your care.
4. If social workers (or the child protection review conference) decide that your parenting is not improving enough to protect your child from significant harm, they will call a legal planning meeting.
This meeting is for social workers and the council's lawyers to decide, on the basis of the evidence that has been gathered about your child's circumstances, whether it is in your child's best interests:
- for you to be given a further period of support to improve your parenting, or an opportunity to find someone else in your family to care for your child, with the aim of avoiding social workers asking the court for an order giving them permission to remove your child from your care; or
- to be removed from your care straight away, hence they plan to apply to court straight away to ask for an order to remove your child from your care whether you agree or not.
You will not be invited to this meeting.
5. If they decide you should be given a further period of support to improve your parenting, they should send you a letter before proceedings telling you this.
This letter should explain that court proceedings are likely but that you are being given a last chance to improve your parenting to avoid your child being removed. It will also set out:
- what the concerns are about your child's safety,
- what you need to change/improve in your parenting to make sure your child is safe and to avoid your child being removed from your care;
- what help you will continue to be given to keep your child safe;
- inviting you to a pre-proceedings meeting to discuss the improvements you need to make; and
- information about how you can get free legal advice and representation.
It is also really important that you go to the pre-proceedings meeting the social worker has invited you to and that you ask your solicitor to go to the meeting with you. You should also let the social worker know that you will come to the meeting.
Before you go to this meeting you should prepare with your solicitor what you want to say about any changes you will make. You will normally be given a further 6 weeks to make necessary changes to keep your child safe, before the social worker applies to court for an order to remove your child.
It is very important that you involve your wider family immediately to find out how they can help you keep your child safe. This might involve them either:
- supporting you to care for your child or
- if social workers decide that your child cannot remain safely in your care, finding out if they would be willing to look after your child for a period of time whilst you try to improve your own situation.
It is important that you have this discussion with your family before you go to thepre-proceedings meeting so you can tell the social worker at the meeting how they can help.
If social workers tell you at the pre-proceedings meeting that don't think it is in your child's best interests to remain in your care, they may ask you if there is anyone in your family who could care for your child on a short (or even long term ) basis. It is really important you tell them if you know of anyone in the family who would be willing and suitable to care for your child. It is also important you ask that family member to contact your child's social worker directly.
You can also ask the social worker to arrange a family group conference to enable your whole family to meet together to make (or firm up) a plan about how best they can help protect your child including identifying who in the family could care for your child if you cannot. Some councils do this routinely, others don't but you can always ask for this and you can point out to the social worker that government guidance recommends that local authorities should consider making a referral for a family group conference 'if they believe there is a possibility that the child may not be able to remain with their parents... unless this would place the child at risk.'
If your child moves to live with a family member with your agreement but this has been requested or arranged by the social worker, your child is likely to be technically looked after in the care system. This is known as voluntary accommodation, or Section 20 if you have agreed to it. It may also be called "accommodation" "kinship care" or "family and friends care". This means your relative would have to be formally assessed and approved as a foster carer for your child and should also have a right to receive support to care for your child. To find out more go to our voluntary accommodation section.
If your relative wants to raise your child but would prefer them not to be in care or does not wish to be assessed as a foster carer or the social worker does not agree to them raising the child, they can apply to court for a Child Arrangements Order or Special Guardianship Order. For more information please see here.
6. If your child's social worker decides it is not in your child's best interests to wait any longer and that your child should be removed from your care straight away, the social worker may apply to court to ask a magistrate or judge for an order that your child should be removed against your wishes.
In these circumstances, the social worker should send you a letter of issue, informing you that legal proceedings are being started and that you should see a solicitor specialising in children's law immediately. As a parent, you will not have to pay your solicitors costs if you give them this letter of issue. To find out more about what happens when care proceedings are started, go to our Care Proceedings section.