There are now many ways in which Children’s Services (CS) can get involved in your life, whether because you asked for help or because someone else (usually a midwife, health visitor, teacher, counsellor, police, GP, consultant … or other professional) has made a “safeguarding” referral to them.
There is now a legal obligation for all professionals you come into contact with to tell CS if they have any “safeguarding” concern about your child. This was brought in to “protect children” from “neglect” and “abuse”, especially after the mass child abuse scandals were exposed [vi]. As a result, practically anything can lead to you being referred to CS. For example, if you are pregnant and you tell your midwife that you have been a victim of domestic violence or if you tell your health visitor that you are stressed out or depressed after giving birth, they will tell CS; if a teacher at your child’s school says that your child comes to school hungry or in dirty clothes or even if you have shouted at them or disagreed with them, they will tell CS. Disputes between yourself and doctors about medical treatment or with teachers that you might ask to assess your child for Special Educational Needs (SEN) issues and support in school are also used as a source for reporting. To avoid any false or unreasonable accusations escalating into your child being taken from you, you must take them seriously and refute them from the beginning. Always put your case in writing so there is a paper trail.
Your child is entitled to an independent advocate once they are aged 10 or over. Look for an independent agency who provides this . These can help your child have their own voice heard.
The first notice you will have that you have been referred to CS is:
· an unannounced home visit from a social worker
· a letter advising you that a referral has been made and asking you to make contact to arrange a home visit
· a telephone call from a social worker saying they want to speak with you
In all cases of a home visit ask for two forms of identification. All genuine social workers will carry identification. It’s worth starting recording the conversation straight away as these first visits are often quite upsetting and sometimes your words can be taken out of context.
If the social worker asks you to give consent for them to contact other agencies, like the health visitor, child’s school, GP, etc., in order to get information about you and your family, and to share information with those agencies, you have no obligation to agree. Do not give your consent on the word of a social worker. Ask for time to find out about your and your child’s rights, and make sure you read everything closely before you sign anything. For example, some forms say that by signing, you are giving authorisation for a period of one year, which you might not want to agree to; some forms say that if you change your mind about consent, you have to notify the local authority in writing. Ask to see their leaflet about “consent to obtaining and sharing personal information” before you sign any consent form. If you want to consent to some parts of their form but not others, do NOT sign the form. Instead, put in writing to the social worker what you will or will not agree to. There is no legal obligation to use their forms and if they insist you can ask for a copy of the law regarding this (knowing that it does not exist!).
As soon as a social worker has got involved in your life for whatever reason, be very cautious about how you deal with them. Most people have no idea how much power social workers have to interfere with family life if they consider it inadequate in some way. This can have devastating consequences, first of all for the children involved. We know of children taken away for the flimsiest of reasons despite the fact that by law the harm they have suffered or at risk of suffering must be “significant”. Once a social worker starts digging around in your life, your children can be put on child protection or even taken away on the basis of negative judgements made by a social worker. Keep in mind that at any stage CS can move to take legal proceedings which can lead to a court case where you have to fight to stop your children being taken away.
If you are at the very beginning of an involvement with a social worker (who would be appointed as your child’s social worker, not yours), think really carefully about how you deal with them – read our useful tips (Section 1) and act accordingly! This includes if you have gone to ask Children’s Services for help because you are struggling with bad housing, domestic violence, childcare, debts, etc. Children’s Services are supposed to help you and you have every right to ask for and expect help from them – but always be aware that they also have the power to monitor you and make judgements about you as a mother, how you look after your children, how clean your house is, how much food you have in the fridge, and much more … and they can use any of this to claim you are an “unfit” mother.