Frequently asked questions on Child Protection
I have been invited to a child protection conference. What is going to happen?
Social workers arrange a child protection conference if they are worried that a child may not be safe or well cared for. This is a multi-agency meeting organised by Children's Service, which brings you and your child (if they are old enough) together with all the professionals already involved with your child (for example, your child's social worker, GP, health visitor and teacher) to look at your child's situation. Sometimes other professionals are invited for example, the police or a paediatrician.
The aim of the conference is to look at all the relevant information provided by everyone at the meeting and decide what should happen next:
- If those at the meeting think your child is (or might be) at risk of harm in the future, they must make a child protection plan. This plan will say what needs to be done and by whom, to make sure your child is safe and well cared for in future. This will be followed up by smaller meetings (called core group meetings) which will add more information to the plan about what you and your family must do to improve the care of your child and what the social worker and other professionals will do to help you and your child. The plan should explain how professionals will know that things are getting better for your child. The plan will be reviewed after 3 months and then again after six months to see if things are improving for your child.
- If those at the meeting think that your child is not at risk of harm but that they still need extra support, professionals at the meeting may suggest that a child in need plan or other support services are put in place.
It is really important you go to the child protection conference and that you prepare some notes before hand to help you say what you think is best for your child and what help you need to look after your child. You can normally take someone with you to the conference – either a supporteror an advocate - to help you remember what you want to say and also to remember what was said at the meeting afterwards.
Please note: the child protection conference cannot remove your child from your care. This can only happen if you agree, or if the court makes an order stating that your child can be removed. But if Children's Services are concerned that your child's situation is not improving and your child continues to be at risk, they might hold a legal planning meeting to decide if they should ask the court to remove your child from your care. If they do this they will normally write to you to tell you and you should see a solicitor immediately.
I am pregnant and have had previous children removed by Children's Services. What can I do to stop them taking this one?
In this situation, it is very common to be worried that your new baby could be removed (even if your circumstances have changed) and to avoid contact with professionals until some way into the pregnancy. But this is not a good idea - in fact it is likely to make things much worse for you.
The best thing to do is to:
- stay in regular touch with health professionals to make sure you get the ante-natal care that you and your baby need;
- work with the social worker to make a safe plan for your child for when they are born. This may include:
- you understanding and overcoming the problems which led to your previous children being removed and what support you need with your new baby;
o the social worker saying what support you will be given when the baby is born to help you care for them, ,
o considering whether there is anyone else in the baby's family who is suitable to look after your baby if you cannot.
The social worker will visit you and they will assess whether they think you can look after your baby. In some case if they are worried your baby may be at risk, they might arrange a child protection conference with other professionals can discuss this further. For more information see: advice sheet 9: Child protection procedures
- see a solicitor straight away. They can advise you and help you discuss plans with the social worker, even before your baby is born; and
- discuss with your (and the baby's father's) wider family if there is anyone who could care for your baby safely after the birth if you are not allowed to. If there is, ask those family members to contact the social worker and ask to be assessed as soon as possible.
The social worker is assessing my family because she thinks my child is neglected. I don't agree. What should I do?
If your child's social worker is worried that your child is being neglected, it is likely that they have received some information, perhaps from a professional who knows your child or a member of the public, that this is the case. When this happens social workers are required by law to make enquiries about the child's circumstances to see if they are at risk or not. This includes carrying out an assessment of your child's situation.
Even though you don't agree with the social worker's view, it is really important that you co-operate with this assessment. This is your chance to tell the social worker about your child and any help you may need to look after your child. Also if you don't co-operate the social worker may think that you want to hide something about your child's situation and might become even more concerned.
My children are under a child protection plan. What does this mean? Do I have to go along with it?
A child protection plan is drawn up when a child protection conference has decided that your child is at risk and needs a plan in order to be kept safe and well cared for. The plan is drawn up on the basis of the recommendations made by those people who attended the conference. The Chair of the conference should also ask you what you think would help you and your children. The plan might include, for example, that your child must not come into contact with someone who is thought to have harmed him or her; it might also specify what extra help you will be given to care for your child.
The outline of the plan will be drawn up at the conference, but it will then be developed into a full child protection plan after the conference conference by a social worker and at regular core group meetings. The plan should be clear about what is expected of you and what you can expect of other people to help your child's situation get better. If you are confused or you don't know what you need to change or do differently, ask the social worker to explain it to you in writing after the conference and then get independent advice, for example from a solicitor or contact the Family Rights Group advice service or ring 0808 801 0366 (Opening hours: Monday - Friday 9.30am-3.00pm) excluding Bank Holidays.
Can I appeal the decision of the child protection conference to have a child protection plan?
Very rarely. If you are unhappy that your child now has a child protection plan, you cannot normally appeal unless you can show that there are grounds for judicial review – this is usually when Children's Services have not complied with the law or they have been totally unreasonable, given the evidence available. But such cases are only successful in very exceptional cases, so it is probably better to make a complaint. How you complain depends on what you are complaining about:
- If you want to complain about the behaviour of the social worker, any other person working for Children's Services or the child protection investigation or assessment itself, then you should complain directly to Children's Services. Ask them for details of their complaints procedure;- If you want to complain about the work or behaviour of other professionals (e.g. from health or education) at the conference, then you should contact the agency concerned and use its own complaints procedures.
- If you want to complain about the conference process, it may be best to first contact the Chair and ask if there is a complaints procedure for conferences. If you are not able to resolve matters, then contact Children's Services Complaints department and they will advise you what to do next.
But note: A complaint cannot change the decision of the original conference, but it could result in a new conference being held (with a new Chair) so a different decision could then be made, but this is very unusual.
If you have been through the Children's Services complaints process and you are not satisfied with the outcome, you may contact the Local Government Ombudsman about your complaint and For further information see FRG advice sheet on Making a Complaint.
Is the social worker check allowed to check my fridge, cupboards and my child's bedroom?
If your child's social worker is worried about your child, they will carry out an assessment of your child's situation which will include visiting you at home. This is because they are required by law to find out as much information as they can that is relevant to your child's situation to help them make a decision about any risk to your child. If social workers are worried that your child is often hungry, or looks dirty, tired or neglected then they may ask to look in your cupboards and fridge to see what food you have, or to look at where your child sleeps. However, social workers should also consider people's right to respect, privacy and confidentiality, so they should normally ask you before they do this. You can refuse to co-operate but this may very well increase the social worker's concerns about your child's welfare and could lead to them taking further action to keep your child safe.
Can my child's social worker look at my Facebook pages?
If your child's social worker is worried about your child, they may look at any open social media accounts you have. This is because they are required by law to find out as much information as they can that is relevant to your child's situation to help them decide what to do about any possible risk to your child. But social workers also have a duty to consider people's right to respect, privacy and confidentiality, so they should normally only access a social media account with your permission.
Is the social worker allowed to speak to my mother-in-law or other family members about me and my child if I don't agree?
When the social worker assesses your child's situation, they will want to talk to other people who know your child including other family members, to find out what they think about your child's situation, and how they can help you to care for your child. If there is a possibility you may not be able to continue caring for your child, they will want to find out if other family members could look after them instead of you and whether they could meet your child's needs. This includes talking to relatives on both sides of your child's family. However before speaking to other relatives, the social worker should normally ask you if you agree (unless they think that asking you would place your child at risk).
Many parents understandably find this difficult but it is important that you agree so that you are not seen to be obstructive and so that all family options of support and care are explored for your child in case they are needed at any stage in the future.
It may help if you discuss with the social worker why he or she wants to speak to certain people, and see if you can agree on how this will happen (for example, you may want to limit what information the social worker gives to the other person about your family or, you may want to ask if you can be part of the meeting). The social worker should involve you as much as possible, and it is usually best if you co-operate as much as you can.
The social worker has told me that if I don't do what she says my child may be taken away. Is this right? What can I do?
Your child's social worker does 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. However if social workers are worried that your child is not safe or being well cared for, and you have not made the changes they say are necessary to improve your parenting, they are likely to apply to court for an order allowing them to remove your child from your care. But before they do so (unless there is an emergency) your child's social worker will normally send you a letter telling you that there is a possibility that they may apply to court for an order allowing them to remove your child. You will be invited to a meeting to discuss what you can do to avoid going to court.
If you are a parent (or you have parental responsibility for the child) and you have received this letter, you are entitled to free legal advice from a solicitorwho can also attend this meeting with you to help represent you.
Your child's social worker will usually want you to show that you have made changes within 6 weeks of this letter/meeting otherwise court proceedings are likely to start. Make sure that you are clear what you need to do to stop the social worker applying to court. If you are not clear ask your child's social worker and/or your solicitor.
If there is any suggestion that your child cannot remain in your care, you should get legal advice immediately from a solicitor specialising in children's law (taking any letters you have had from the social worker with you) or contact the Family Rights Group advice service here or ring 0808 801 0366 (Opening hours: Monday - Friday 9.30am-3.00pm) excluding Bank Holidays.
I have received a letter saying that my child's social worker may start care proceedings if I don't make changes to the way I care for her. What should I do?
This letter will normally say that you are being given a last chance to improve your parentingto avoid your child being removed. It will tell you what you need to change to be able to keep your child with you and what help you will be given to achieve this. It will also normally say that you are invited to a pre-proceedings meeting to discuss the improvements you need to make; and give you information about how you can get free legal advice and representation.
If you receive this letter, or there is any suggestion that your child may not remain in your care, it is really important that you see a solicitor specialising in children's law immediately. The letter should normally include details of local solicitors specialising in children law. You should give your solicitor a copy of the letter you have received. If you give them a copy of the letter before proceedings you will not have to pay their costs.
The social worker will usually want to see that you have made the changes they have identified as being necessary for your child to be safe and well cared for within 6 weeks of this letter/meeting, otherwise they will start court proceedings and your child could be removed. It is therefore very important that you focus on making the changes they have identified as quickly and thoroughly as possible. Also speak to your wider family immediately to see if any of them could care for your child if you are unable to and if they can, ask them to contact the social worker straight away to tell them this. You could also ask the social worker to refer you for a Family Group Conference which is when your whole family meets to make a safe plan for your child, taking account of any child protection concerns.
For more information see: advice sheet 9: Child protection procedures and advice sheet 3 of Family Group Conferences. You can also contact the Family Rights Group advice service here or ring 0808 801 0366 (Opening hours: Monday - Friday 9.30am-3.00pm) excluding Bank Holidays.
The social worker has said she is worried about my baby and wants me to agree to him being placed with foster carers who could go on to adopt him. Do I have to agree?
No and you should contact a solicitor immediately for advice before giving her an answer.
If the social worker is considering adoption for your baby and your baby is looked after in the care system, Children's Services are under a 'duty to consider' placing your child with approved foster carers who are also approved as possible adopters. The idea behind this is that if, at a later date, the court decides your baby cannot stay in your family, these foster carers might go on to apply to adopt your baby. This is called fostering for adoption.
If this has been mentioned in your case it is essential that you see a solicitor straight away and that, if you have not already done so, you find out if there is anyone in your family who might be suitable to care for your baby. If there is, tell the social worker immediately and ask for that person to be assessed as a possible carer for your baby.
You could also ask the social worker to refer you for a Family Group Conference which is when your whole family meets to make a safe plan for your baby, taking account of any child protection concerns. This can be a good way of finding out who in your wider family could look after your baby if you are unable to.
If you don't agree to them placing your baby with foster for adoption foster carers, Children's Services can still apply to court to argue that this is the right plan for your baby but you will have a right to argue against this with your solicitor's help, and tell the judge how you feel your baby can be kept safe, for example being cared for by you or someone suitable in your family.
You can also contact the Family Rights Group advice service here or ring 0808 801 0366 (Opening hours: Monday - Friday 9.30am-3.00pm) excluding Bank Holidays.
My children live with their mother/father and I am worried they are at risk of harm, what can I do?
If you think your child is at risk then if possible try to discuss your worries with their other parent, maybe with the help of a relative you both trust. If that is not possible or it doesn't help and you are still worried about your children, you can contact your local Children's Services department or the NSPCC to let them know why you are worried. If you do this, make sure you tell the person you speak to exactly why you are worried and give as much information about your child's situation as possible. Children's Services should let you know what action they will take as a result of your information within 1 working day. You can ask to remain anonymous but you should discuss the possible implications of this with the person you speak to. If you think your child is at immediate risk of serious harm, then call the police.
I don't feel my child's social worker is fair to me. Can I ask for a different one?
You can ask canfor a different social worker, but you do not have the right the to a different one. If you think that your child's social worker behaved unfairly towards you, then speak to the social worker's manager, explain your reasons and if necessary you can make a complaint. You can ask them for a copy of the local complaints procedure. You can also read information about how to complain in our Advice Sheet Making a Complaint.
I am pregnant and people are worried about my unborn child, how will social workers decide whether or not my baby will be safe
The social worker will carry out an assessment of your situation, including talking to you and your family and other professionals who know you, to decide whether you need support to care for your child once they are born. It is really important that you co-operate with this assessment so they take account of your views.
If they are concerned that your baby may not be safe or well cared for after the birth, they may arrange an initial child protection conference while you are pregnant to decide what plans should be put in place to keep your child safe after they are born. You should be invited to this meeting and you should be allowed to take a supporter or advocate with you to this meeting. For more information about child protection click here.
If you are experiencing domestic violence, click here for more FAQs about pregnancy and domestic violence.
Is the social worker allowed to interview my child without me being there?
Yes. The social worker will want to speak to your child alone, but they should ask you before they do so (unless there are exceptional circumstances, for example they are concerned that you might threaten your child or try to make your child stay silent, or your child doesn't want you involved).
Many parents, understandably find this difficult, but it is important that you agree to this, otherwise they may think you are trying to control what your child says.. If the social worker can't speak to your child without you there they maybecome more concerned about your child's welfare and consider taking further steps including potentially applying to court for a legal order to force you to co-operate. This could include removing your child from your care.
If you have ideas about where you think your child would feel most comfortable talking with a social worker do let them know. You may also want to suggest that a friend or family member is at the meeting, to give reassurance to your child.
My child is disabled, does this make a difference?
If you have a disabled child the same child protection processes will be followed for you as any other parent. However, the social worker carrying out the assessment should also consider any special needs your child may have. For example your child may need an interpreter or someone who understands their individual communication needs.
Will my child be invited to the conference?
If your child is old enough (usually 10 or over) they may be invited to take part in the conference. The Chair will decide if your child will come to all or part of the meeting depending on the information being discussed. Your child’s views are very important, and your child should be offered a children’s advocate whose job is to help children say what has happened and what they need. If your child does not want to go to the conference, the advocate may be able to go along on their behalf. Whether or not an advocate is involved, getting across your child’s feelings and views is a key part of the social worker’s job.
Can my child be taken away at the end of the conference?
Not unless your child is at immediate risk of harm and needs to be taken into police protection. In that case social workers wouldn’t normally arrange a conference but take other action. The main purpose of the conference is to decide if your child is at risk and if so if he or she needs a child protection plan. However, if the professionals’ concerns about your child are very serious, and they feel that the child protection plan may not improve the situation for your child, they may recommend that children’s services hold a legal planning meeting. This means that they would discuss whether or not they need to apply to the court for an order (eg Emergency Protection Order or Interim care Order) to remove your child.
Who will be at the child protection conference?
The meeting will be organised by a child protection conference chair. This person will be separate from the social work team that have looked into your child’s situation. It is the chairperson’s job to make sure everyone’s opinion is heard, and that you get a chance to say what you think. The chairperson will meet with you before the conference takes place, and will explain the process of the meeting and answer any questions you may have. Other people who may come to the child protection conference include the police (this will be someone from a special child protection police team), the social worker who has been looking into your child’s situation, and other professionals involved in your child’s life, such as his or her teacher, health visitor, school nurse, and doctor. If you are getting specific support, perhaps from a mental health team, women’s refuge or drug treatment team, a staff member from these teams may be invited too, and be asked to give an opinion about whether or not a child protection plan is needed. You can also take someone along to support you and help you to get across your opinions. This may be a family member or friend, or perhaps a professional supporter or advocate.
Will I be invited to the child protection conference?
You and your child’s other parent should be invited to the conference unless there is a very good reason that one of you shouldn’t attend (this will only usually be the case if there is serious conflict, including domestic violence between parents, or if there is concern that one of you may pose a risk to a child or anyone else at conference). If you are excluded from the meeting, you should still have an opportunity to have your views heard at the meeting. You should normally be given the chance to meet with the Chair before the conference or put your views in writing. If you have more than one child with different biological parents, each parent should be invited. Step parents who live with the child may also be invited. This means that sometimes there are a number of different family members at the conference. The conference chair person should make sure that any confidential information about your child is only discussed with professionals and you and your child’s other parent. Information should not be discussed with any other family members who do not have parental responsibility for your child, unless you agree. This means that people may come in and out of the conference at different times.
Do I need a solicitor for a Child Protection Conference?
You do not “need” a solicitor, but you may want to bring one. Things to think about include whether you can afford to pay for one as even free legal help from a solicitor doesn’t normally included attending the conference, though they might write a letter for you.. If there is a criminal investigation or complex disputed medical evidence or if you are being asked to agree to something you think is completely unreasonable, you should think about bringing asolicitor, or at least speaking to one. You could also speak to one of our advisers. Some social workers and even solicitors are misinformed about the role of solicitors at Child Protection Conferences, wrongly believing that they may not attend, or may not speak if they do attend. This is incorrect. A solicitor is able to speak on your behalf during the conference, so long as they do not start behaving as if they were in court. If you decide against bringing a solicitor, or you are not able to, you may want to bring someone else who can help you to get across your opinions. This may be a family member or friend, or perhaps an advocate.
Whether you take someone or you go to the conference alone, it is a good idea to make some notes about what you want to say beforehand.
How do I complain about the child protection conference?
If you are unhappy about the way the conference was run, or the outcome for your child you can either complain to the chair of the conference, or complain directly to the social worker. You could also make a formal complaint to children’s services. Your complaint will be dealt with in three stages.If you are unhappy about what a professional from another agency did or said (e.g. a health visitor or teacher), you should complain directly to that agency (e.g. doctors' surgery, or school).