FAQs on Domestic Violence for fathers
My child’s social worker is worried about my child because of domestic violence. But I don’t hit my partner or my child. Why is she so concerned?
Your child’s social worker may be worried about other aspects of your behaviour towards your partner and your child. Domestic violence covers a wide range of actions not just physical violence. These can include sexual abuse, emotional abuse, isolation, coercion, threats, intimidation, financial control, forced marriage and honour-based violence.
Living in a home where domestic violence is happening can be very damaging for a child. The law now recognises the harm caused to children by witnessing domestic violence as a form of significant harm which children may need protecting from. Domestic violence is a serious failure in parenting and can be particularly harmful to children because it often directed at their main carer, their mother.
It is important to check with the social worker what the concerns are and whether the social worker is involved because your child may be in need of support (they may be a child in need) or because your child may be at risk of significant harm due to domestic violence (the social worker must then make child protection enquiries or take action if needed to safeguard the child).
You should be involved in any assessment and child in need plan or child protection plan for your child in a way that is safe for your partner and your child. It is important for you to understand how the social worker thinks your child is being affected and what you can do to overcome those concerns and change your behaviour. The assessment should also record any examples of positive aspects of your parenting.
My child’s social worker and other professionals say that my behaviour towards my wife and child is intimidating and controlling. They call this behaviour coercive control. What can I do about this?
Coercive control is often a central part of domestic violence as it is a pattern of behaviour used to control and isolate someone by using threats and fear. It can exist alongside other forms of domestic violence such as sexual or physical abuse but does not have to.
Since December 2015 it is a criminal offence to use coercive control and it can lead to up to five years in prison for those convicted. So it is a serious concern for your social worker if your child is living in a home where their father (or father figure) is behaving in this way. Coercive control can have a very serious impact on a child’s emotional and physical wellbeing and can cause serious harm, in some cases it may be considered to cause a child significant harm.
It is really important that you listen to and consider carefully what the social worker and other professionals are worried about and what they suggest needs to happen. Do discuss your understanding of the situation and ask any questions you have. You should also make sure that you know what changes you are being asked to make and why (such as changing your behaviour, moving out, having restrictions on contact with your child) attending a perpetrators’ programme) and what plan is in place for your child such as a child in need or child protection plan.
When working with your child’s social worker because of concerns about coercive control you may find it hard to listen because what they are talking about is challenging or you disagree with them. Try to remain calm or ask for a short break if needed. Try not to minimise concerns. We have some comprehensive advice about working with a social worker which might help you. It is important that you try to work respectfully with professionals and they with you.
You should be involved in decisions and meetings about your child but because of the concern about coercive control split meetings may be put in place so that you and your partner are not present at the same to make it safe for each of you to participate and to prevent any risk or intimidation.
I have never been violent to my current partner but my past history is being used against me by my child’s social worker. What can I do about this?
It can be very difficult to be reminded of your past especially where you feel that your relationship and your situation are now very different.
However, when someone has been domestically violent in a previous relationship this can be a strong indicator that they may behave that way again, especially where they have not undertaken any work to address their violence. Your past history may be seen as a risk factor which needs to be fully considered as part of any assessment or plan for your child’s needs but the assessment or plan should also take account of what is different now, how this has been achieved and how likely it is to be sustained.
There will be situations where past domestic violence combined with other historic and current factors may indicate that your child may be at risk of significant harm. Depending on the severity of your child’s situation they may have a child in need plan, a child protection plan or be involved in care proceedings.
It is really important that you work with your child’s social worker and any other professionals involved to understand, address and try to overcome their concerns for your child’s safety and welfare.
For further advice about children’s services’ involvement you can contact Family Rights Group’s free advice service. Organisations such as Respect or the Domestic Violence Intervention Project can tell you more about domestic violence perpetrator programmes. If children’s services are planning to hold a pre-proceedings meeting or are starting court proceedings you should seek legal advice from a solicitor specialising in childcare law immediately.
I have been told by my child’s social worker that I must move out of our family home because of a domestic violence incident. I don’t know why and don’t want to go.
It is important to try to work with children’s services when they are involved with your family, to listen and try to understand their concerns and to work with them to address any risks. Even if you do not agree with their views it is important to allay concerns and to try to work cooperatively.
If your child’s social worker is undertaking a child protection investigation because they are concerned for your child’s safety and welfare due to domestic violence at home they can ask you to agree to move out while they are looking into this.
Children’s services have a legal duty to investigate if they suspect a child could be at risk of harm. They may want you to move out so that any potential immediate risk to your child is reduced and to allow your partner or child to freely contribute to the assessment. If you leave your home this may mean that your child does not have to leave their home in order to be safe. If you do not agree to move out and children’s services believe that this puts your child at serious risk of harm then they may apply to court to remove your child instead in order to safeguard them.
What can I do?
You can ask the social worker to put in writing:
- Why you are being asked to move out and how it will help
- How long you are being asked to agree to this for
- How will this arrangement be reviewed
- What arrangements will be made for you to see and have contact with your child
- If you are being asked to agree to restrictions on seeing and contacting your partner
I am willing to move out but have nowhere to go. What can I do?
If you are willing to move out for a short specified time but are unable to make safe arrangements to stay with family or friends and cannot afford to pay for alternative accommodation you can ask if children’s services will help you with the cost of accommodation. They can help an adult with accommodation in order to protect a child if they assess this to be necessary but they do not have to help in this way. You can find out more about the type of help that can be provided in Family Rights Group’s advice sheet on Family Support.
There is going to be a child protection conference for my child but I am not allowed to be there. Why is this? What can I do about it?
A child protection conference is a multi-agency meeting arranged by children’s services and involving your child (if they are old enough), parents, your child’s social worker and other key professionals involved with your child. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss any risk to your child and, whether or not professionals consider that your child is likely to suffer significant harm in the future and to come up with plans to keep your child safe and well cared for. For further information see Family Rights Group advice sheet on child protection.
Where there is a history of domestic violence you might be invited to attend a “split conference” where you and your child’s mother are each invited to attend separately, for her safety.
If there is a court injunction against you which states that you should not be near your child’s mother then this would mean you could not attend.
You could be excluded from the conference if you are assessed to pose a risk of harm (this can include intimidation) to your child, their mother or anyone else at the conference.
Even if you are not allowed to attend the conference your child’s social worker and the conference Chair should make sure that you are consulted and kept informed about what is happening. This might be through a separate meeting either before or after the conference.
What are my rights if my child’s social worker says that I cannot return home or spend time with my child alone?
Sometimes, children’s services may decide that your child has been or may be harmed so severely by domestic violence that it is not safe for them to continue to live with you or to see you on their own. They may ask you, as part of a child protection plan, to agree to live elsewhere and to comply with supervised contact or no contact at all. In this situation they may assess that your partner can keep your child safe if you both keep to these arrangements. Children’s services may say that if you do not agree to this or do not keep these terms they will make an application to court to remove your child. You can ask your child’s social worker to put in writing why they think this is needed and what, if anything, you can do to change this.
You can contact Family Rights Group’s freephone advice service or seek legal advice from a solicitor specialising in childcare law. You can find out more about applying for a court order to see your child in our guide to Child Arrangement Orders. Remember that contact is for the benefit of the child so the court would need to consider if you pose a risk of harm to your child.
If you have not previously accessed any specialist services to support you to address your behaviours, such as a perpetrators’ programme, you could do so now. A perpetrators’ programme usually involves a group work programme which men attend each week for at least 6 months. The programmes are designed to help men learn how to be less violent, and to take responsibility for their actions. They learn about respectful relationships, being a better parent and communicating without violence. All Respect accredited programmes will have linked partner support services.
Even if this does not change the situation in the short-term it may benefit both you and your child in the future.
You can find out more about to do if children’s services decide to go to court to apply for an order to remove your child in the FAQS on care proceedings below or in Family Rights Group’s care proceedings advice sheet.
I am not happy with how my child’s social worker is handling the case and how they respond to me. How can I get them removed from the case?
If children’s services are worried that your child has complex needs or may have been harmed or be at risk of harm because of domestic violence then they may want to, or will have a duty to, remain involved.
It is important to understand the role of children’s services and that they have a legal duty to be involved where there is a child protection investigation or child protection plan in place. It may be helpful to separate out why you are dissatisfied. Is it because children’s services are involved or are in a child protection process or are you unhappy because of the actions or practice of the individual social worker?
Children’s services have a duty to investigate if a child may be suffering from significant harm and where necessary to take action to keep the child safe.
If you are very unhappy with the social worker’s practice then you can ask the social worker’s manager to consider allocating a different social worker or you can make a complaint to children’s services. You would need to explain clearly why you are requesting a change of social worker. You can ask for a written response with reasons. If you make a complaint this should be addressed through children’s services’ complaints procedure. You can find some useful tips in Family Rights Group’s complaints advice sheet.
It is important that you keep working with children’s services even if you are involved in a complaints procedure as their involvement will not come to an end because a complaint is being looked into.
My child is on a child protection plan because of concerns about her mother’s parenting. I want to put myself forward to care for my child but am worried that past incidents where I reacted to my ex-partner’s violence will go against me and I will end up losing contact. What can I do in this situation?
Children’s services should already be involving you safely in the planning for your child. If you are not being properly involved there are some tips here to your rights as a father on our young parents website. Your child’s social worker should be working with you to consider what you can offer in terms of care and support for your child.
Sometimes a victim of domestic violence who retaliates is then seen as the abuser. You should make sure that you know exactly what the social worker’s concerns are about the past incidents and if they are missing information which you think would help them understand the situation better then discuss this with them.
Your ex-partner may be asked to undertake a programme to address her behaviour and parenting if she has been violent. It is important that you take on board any changes that you need to make to protect yourself or to behave differently if you have used violence too. Domestic violence will have affected your child and their social worker will want to make sure that your child is protected from witnessing further domestic violence.
You can ask the social worker to assess you as a potential carer for your child. In some situations a family group conference may be offered if the social worker agrees that safe plans need to be made about who should care for your child.
You can also consider asking the family court to decide who should be your child’s main carer and also to decide with whom and how your child should spend time. The court will take into account any evidence of domestic violence and risk assessments when deciding if they should make a Child Arrangements Order and if so to whom. Children’s Services’ will be asked to make a recommendation in relation to this.
You can find a range of useful services including legal advice, domestic violence organisations and fathers’ projects on our further information page.
Click here for more FAQs on child protection.