FAQs on child protection processes

The social worker has told a mother I am working with that she is now doing a child protection investigation. What does this involve?

Child protection enquiries

  • If the assessment finds that the child may be at risk of significant harm then Children’s Services have a legal duty to look further into the child’s situation. This is sometimes known as a section 47 enquiry or investigation after the section of the Children Act 1989 which sets out this duty.
  • If Children’s Services have information which suggests that the child is suffering (or likely to suffer) harm then the social worker and other professionals will hold a strategy discussion to share information and decide whether/how to undertake child protection enquiries. The mother will not be invited to a strategy meeting but the social worker should inform her as soon as possible afterwards about what is likely to happen.
  • The mother should be as involved as possible when social workers are making child protection enquiries, including during assessments and at any decision/review points.
  • All relevant information should be shared with her except where this would place her child at risk. Any decision not to share information should be agreed at a strategy discussion.
  • The mother’s permission should be usually sought before a social worker speaks to her child and before information is shared between professionals. However, the social worker can speak to her child without her permission if asking permission would put the child at further risk of harm or if speaking to the child was necessary to protect or ensure the safety or wellbeing of her child.

There is going to a child protection conference because of the concerns about how domestic violence is affecting the child. What decisions can the conference make?

Child protection conference

If, after making child protection enquiries, the social worker remains concerned about the child’s safety and development, then a child protection conference will be held. The purpose is to decide if the child continues to be at risk of harm. The mother should be invited to the conference. She can ask for a “split meeting” to be arranged in cases of domestic violence where a father’s attendance could place her or her child at risk of harm.

Child protection plans

If the conference decides that the child is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm, they will draw up an outline child protection plan to keep the child safe. The lead social worker is responsible for developing the outline plan into a full inter-agency plan and to circulate this to the mother and relevant family members and professionals.

If the conference decides that the child is not suffering or likely to suffer significant harm, then a child in need plan could be made if the conference agrees it is needed.

How can a mother I am working with continue to be involved in plans for her child if a child protection plan is made?

It is very important the mother is involved (and is supported to do so) when her child is subject to a child protection plan; and that the plan is focused on the needs of the child and mother. Advocacy might help her take part. Please see the FAQ on how to advocate for a mother in a child protection meeting and look at FRG advice sheet on advocacy for families when social workers make plans for their children.

The mother should normally receive a written copy of a full child protection plan and she can ask for it to be in her first language.

Core group

When a child protection plan is in place a core group of professionals will meet with the mother regularly to share information about how the plan is working and to develop it further. The father may also be invited to meetings to discuss plans for his child. The mother can ask for a “split meeting” to be arranged or for him to be involved or consulted separately so that his presence does not put her at risk of harm.

Child protection reviews

The child protection plan will be reviewed at regular intervals of three months and then six months at a child protection review conference. The mother should usually be invited to attend s review conference. Again, she can ask that this arranged as a "split meeting" if this is necessary to ensure that she is not put at risk.

The review conference will decide if the child continues to suffer or be likely to suffer significant harm and if so the child protection plan will remain in place and will be updated.

If the conference decides that a child is no longer at risk of harm but needs continued support then a child in need plan will be made, setting out what family support services will be offered.

For more detailed advice please see FRG’s advice sheet on child protection procedures.

I am working with a mother who would like me to be her advocate at a child protection meeting but the social worker does not want me to attend. What can I do?

Child protection

The mother should usually be allowed to have an advocate at child protection meetings/conferences. This is not a legal right but government guidance in Working Together 2015 strongly recognises that parents should be given information about advocacy services and allowed to bring an advocate to meetings.

If you find that the social worker is reluctant to allow you to attend as her advocate or supporter or to contribute to the discussions in the meeting, you may find it helpful to remind them what Working Together says about this and to highlight research evidence which shows how advocacy can support families to work in partnership with social workers. You could also want to point out that as an advocate you can help a mother to prepare for meetings, to ask questions, to have a voice in the meetings, to challenge constructively and to review what was discussed or agreed after the meeting and plan what to do next. This is likely to lead to her working more effectively in partnership with the professionals in the future and to better outcomes for her child.

If the mother you are working with is still prevented from bringing you to meetings with her as her advocate you can help her make two further points:

  • That case law supports the principle that parents should be allowed to have advocacy support as long as the advocate is not too adversarial (R v Cornwall CC ex parte LH 1999 (2000) 1FLR 236 p.244C) and
  • That the Human Rights Act 1998 requires Children’s Services’ to follow fair procedures when making decisions to keep children safe – and that fairness should include bringing an advocate to important meetings.

If you are supporting a mother who has a disability which prevents her from taking part fully in meetings on her own, you can argue that she should have an advocate so as not to be disadvantaged and to comply with the Equality Act 2010.

Good practice guidance on working with parents with a learning disability also states that parents with learning disabilities should have access to independent advocacy when there are child protection or care proceedings.

It is important that your role/relationship is clear though because if you are providing a service as part of the professional network you may be expected to contribute to the professional discussion and decision-making rather than being there in an advocacy capacity.

You may find it helpful to follow FRG guides to professional family advocacy standards and code of practice.

You will find up to date information about advocacy in the FRG advice sheet on advocacy for families when social workers make plans for their children.