Your relationship with your child’s social worker is an important one.
However, sometimes young parents can find it hard to work with their child’s social worker and like many parents, they may feel worried or scared. Young parents may also find working with their child’s social worker hard if they:
- Have been in care themselves
- Have had a child removed in the past
- Don’t feel listened to or understood
- Feel judged because of their age or background rather than their parenting ability
- Have had lots of different social workers working with their child.
However children’s services are involved with your child (see the Children’s services page for information about the different ways in which they can become involved), these steps may help you to work with your child’s social worker in order to do the best for you and your child. If the situation is already difficult, then these steps may help improve things.
You may find this information especially helpful if children’s services are involved because of concerns that your child has suffered harm or is at risk of suffering significant harm and:
- A child protection inquiry is being carried out
- Your child is on a child protection plan
- You are involved in a pre-proceedings process for your child
- Or care proceedings have/are about to start.
The three steps are:
1. Get organised
2. Keep up to date
3. Build your confidence
Look below for a list of tips about how to achieve each of these steps.
Step 1. Get organised
Being organised can help make things go better. Getting all your paperwork in order and thinking about what you hope to get out of meetings can be helpful.
Here are some ways in which you can get organised and prepared for working with your child’s social worker.
Keep important information togetherKeep all the paperwork about your child and children’s services in one place, such as a folder. And keep a note of the dates and times of all your meetings. You can write them down in a diary or keep them on your phone.
Write down what you want to talk aboutTry and find some time to write down all the things you want to talk about with the social worker.
There may be questions that you want to ask. Writing them down will help make sure you don’t forget to ask.
Or there may be things you want to remember to tell the social worker. Try and write them down whenever you think of them so you don’t forget. Keep a list in the folder with your other paperwork.
Talk things over with a trusted friend or supporterTalking things through with someone you trust is always likely to help.
Talking things over can help you work out what questions you want to ask the social worker. And if you don’t find it easy to write things down, a friend might be able to help you do this or you can record it as a voicenote to remind you.
Think about what changes could make things easier for youFor example, you might want to ask your social worker to change the time they come and see you so their visits don’t clash with your work or college commitments or with your child’s nap time.
Or if you’re worried about money, make sure you ask the social worker how you can be helped with the cost of your travel to meetings (or contact with your child). If getting to meetings will be difficult for you without help with these costs, make sure the social worker knows this.
And if you don’t feel confident about speaking or reading English, tell the social worker as soon as you can. You can ask for letters and other paperwork to be translated or for an interpreter to help you read things.
You can also ask to have an interpreter at any meetings you go to. If you would prefer that person to be a woman or a man, make sure you tell the social worker.
Step 2. Keep up to date
Social workers should involve children and their families whenever they carry out an assessment. If an assessment is being carried out, think about whether there is any new or further information about you or your child that you feel the social worker should know about to help make sure the assessment is as up to date as possible.
Making sure everyone is kept up to date can also help avoid any confusion or delay. Here are five ways to help you make sure that you and your child’s social worker keep up to date.
Tell the social worker about any changes in your contact detailsIf you move, make sure you tell the social worker your new address right away. Also tell them if you have a new mobile phone number so they can continue to reach you.
Think about whether it will be helpful to let the social worker know where you are even if you go to stay with someone for a relatively short time. Sharing this information can help to make sure that you always get letters and other paperwork on time and that you are kept up to date about meetings and plans that are being made.
Make sure the social worker also knows the best way to leave you a message. For example, if you can’t easily pick up voicemail messages, you can ask to be sent text messages or emails instead.
Always let the social worker know if you can’t keep an appointmentIt is very important that you keep appointments with your child’s social worker. If there is a good reason why you can’t go, let the social worker know as soon as possible and explain the reasons.
It’s a good idea to keep a note of all of your appointments in a diary or on your phone so that you can keep track. If a meeting goes ahead without you being there, make sure you ask the social worker what has happened and ask for a copy of any notes ('minutes') of the meeting to be sent to you.
If you have something important to tell your child’s social worker, don’t wait until your next meetingTell the social worker about any important changes affecting you or your child’s situation as soon as you can. Don’t wait until your next meeting.
If you’re not sure what kind of information it’s important to share, talk to the social worker. Ask the social worker to give you examples of the kind of new information she would expect you to share and why.
If your child's social worker asks you to provide some information that you feel you should not have to share (for example, because you feel it is too personal or it does not seem relevant) then you can ask the social worker to explain more fully why they are asking you for this and call Family Rights Group's free advice line on 0808 801 0366 to discuss your particular situation and concerns (Open Monday to Fridaym 9.30am to 30m; excluding bank holidays).
If you’re worried things aren’t moving forward as they should be, say soIf you’re worried that something isn’t moving forward in the way that’s been agreed, then let the social worker know.
For example, you might be concerned that an action that has been agreed or part of the plan for your child (such as an assessment, or contact arrangements, or plans for a meeting) is not moving forward to the deadline that has been agreed.
Always try to remain calm and to listen, even if what’s being said is difficult to hearDuring meetings with your child’s social worker, there may be times when you’re asked to discuss things that are upsetting. Sometimes, what the social worker is telling you may be something you don’t want to hear.
There may also be times when you strongly disagree with what the social worker is telling you.
If this happens, it’s very important that you still try hard to listen to what the social worker is saying. It’s important so that you keep up to date and know:
- What the social worker is doing
- What they’re planning
- What their concerns are.
However, if at any point during the meeting you feel too upset to continue talking, then you should tell the social worker that you need a few minutes to gather your thoughts.
Step 3. Build your confidence
If you can find ways to feel more confident about talking to the social worker, this will help you work better with them. It can also help you to fully take part in the meetings with social workers and other professionals.
Planning what questions to ask and taking your time can really help. Here are some examples of things you can do to help you feel more confident about working with your child’s social worker.
Ask questions early on so that you know what each meeting will be likeWhenever you’re asked to attend a meeting, ask the social worker beforehand to explain:
- What the meeting will be about
- Who will be there (and why)
- What could be decided at the meeting
- How long the meeting will last.
You can also ask them to send an agenda for the meeting showing what is likely to be covered.
Ask if you can get someone to support you at the meetingOnce you know what the meeting is about and who will be there, think about whether you would like to take an advocate or supporter with you.
Talk to the social worker about this in advance of the meeting. If you’re told you can’t bring someone with you, ask the social worker to explain why not and to put the explanation in writing.
Go to our Working with an advocate page for more information about this.
Ask questions in the meeting - but take your timeWhen you get to the meeting, there may be people there you don’t already know. If there are, ask them their name and to say what their job is so you know why they’re at the meeting. If you feel worried about asking these questions, ask the social worker if they can ask everyone to introduce themselves.
If anyone uses a word or talks about something in a way that you don’t understand, ask them to explain it or put it differently. No one should make you feel uncomfortable for asking this.
If you have made notes, make sure you take them with you. Take a few moments to look through your notes at different points during the meeting. This will help you make sure all the things you need to talk about have been covered. No one should criticise you for needing to look at your notes (professionals need to do it too) and no one should try and hurry you.
Remember, people should also take it in turns to speak. No one should talk over you. If you feel someone isn’t letting you speak or finish what you have to say, you can politely say something like:
- ‘I haven’t quite been able to finish what I wanted to say.’
- ‘I would like the chance to finish speaking so I can be sure everyone understands my views and has all the information they need.’
In a formal meeting, there is likely to be a Chairperson. They should make sure everyone has the chance to speak. When it’s your turn to speak, try to make sure you stay focused on the things that are relevant to the purpose of the meeting.
If you feel you need a bit of time outside the meeting to think about what is being said, then ask for a break. This is a reasonable thing to ask.
Do and ask things that will help you remember what has been agreed and decided.After a meeting is over, it can be very hard to remember everything that has been said and agreed. You may have been asked to agree to do lots of different things.
So it’s very important that you have a way of reminding yourself what happened and what you’ve agreed to do. Here are some ideas to help you.
- If you agreed to do things, make a list to help you remember what you have to do (try and do this during the meeting)
- Always ask what the dates or deadlines are for doing these things. Try and make sure these are agreed at the meeting
- Make sure your child’s social worker (or the Chair of the meeting) sends you written notes (or a ‘minute’) of the meeting and that these clearly explain anything that it has been agreed will happen. For example this should include: anything you are agreeing to do, any help or information that your child’s social worker is agreeing to provide. Check this written record against your own notes of what was agreed
- Make sure that you are clear what it has been agreed you will do and what it has been agreed your child’s social worker and the other professionals involved will so.
What to do if things do not improve
The Frequently Asked Questions below will help you understand what your options are if you don’t have a good working relationship with your child’s social worker and things aren’t improving.
I don’t think my child’s social worker is being fair. Can I ask for a different social worker?You can ask for a different social worker, but you don’t have the right to a different one.
If you feel the social worker has treated you unfairly, ask to speak to the social worker’s manager. Tell them why you think the social worker is being unfair and explain why you want a different social worker.
How would a meeting with the social worker’s manager go?If you’ve tried your best to sort things out with your child’s social worker and things are not improving, then you can ask to meet the social worker’s manager.
If you’ve arranged to meet the social worker’s manager, you’ll need to think about whether it will help to have the social worker come to the meeting too.
Sometimes, having the social worker there can help get things sorted out. But you may think it will be easier to talk if they’re not around.
Before you go to the meeting with the manager, try and be clear about:
- What the problem is
- Why this is a problem for you and your child
- What effect this is having on your child and your family
- What would help to make things better.
Hopefully, the manager will be able to solve your problem or at least improve the situation.
Can I make a complaint?If things don’t get better, you might want to think about making a formal complaint.
However, you should think carefully about whether this is going to help your child in the long run.
Sometimes it can be harder to work with social workers after you’ve made a complaint, especially if your child still has the same social worker. Equally, if you or your child have been treated unfairly, and you have tried but have not been able to resolve this, then a complaint may help to get children's services to take your concerns seriously. It may be worth discussing this with Family Rights Group’s free advice service.
If you think you might want to make a complaint, ask your child’s social worker for a copy of the local complaints procedure. See also Family Rights Group’s Advice Sheet 25: Challenging decisions and making a complaint.
If after you have read this information you feel that you need further advice and support to help you with your situation, you can call Family Rights Group’s free advice line on 0808 801 0366 (Open Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 3pm; excluding bank holidays).