Your child can be put under child protection if Child Services (CS) think that the child is “at risk of significant harm because they have suffered, or are likely to suffer physical abuse, emotional abuse or sexual abuse or neglect”.
The definition of “significant harm” now includes witnessing violence or conflict at home. Harm can be alleged to have been caused by the actions of the parent/carer as well as by the parent/carer’s failure to stop a child from being harmed. This is being widely used to take children from mothers who are victims of domestic violence – instead of providing mothers with the help they need to escape the situation, they are accused of “failing to protect” their children (see 17).
Also, poverty is now being used as “neglect” in child protection. If you are struggling to manage, for example while waiting for Universal Credit to come through, you may be reported to the local authority by a teacher, a health worker, or anyone else who may be well intentioned and assume that is the way to get help. When social services approach you, put the emphasis on how you’re prioritising the children’s needs however difficult the situation, and ask them what help they can provide. If possible, show you have a supportive network of family and friends who are helping you through a particular crisis.
Each Children’s Services department has their own local child protection procedures, are drawn up and monitored by the Local Safeguarding Children’s Board (LSCB), which spell out exactly how child protection enquiries are carried out in your area. They are supposed to follow government guidance which is set out in the publication called Working Together 2015. Local procedures must include threshold documents published by the LSCB.Local authorities, with other agencies like health and education, must also have guidelines for assessment which will say how cases will be managed once a child is referred to Children’s Services. Wherever you live, it is a good idea to ask your social worker for a copy of your local child protection and assessment procedures – this may help you to monitor whether or not they are following the correct procedures and the correct time scales.
Child Protection Conference
Before deciding on a Child Protection Plan, Children Services are supposed to convene a Child Protection Conference (CPC) which you can attend (together with your child if they are old enough). You can take an advocate or a lawyer, though lawyers at this point are not covered by legal aid. Others invited will include all the professionals already involved with your child and sometimes others as well, for example, doctor, health visitor, teacher or police. The Conference is chaired by an independent person, although these are usually social workers who work for the same local authority.
The social worker should present a written report which they should have gone through with you before the Conference – this is supposed to happen at least two days before the Conference (although not all social workers do this). Other professionals who want to have input can make a written report and you are entitled to a copy of each report. If this does not happen then you are within your rights to call the chairperson and ask for the meeting to be adjourned.
Two days before the Conference you should be given the chairperson’s name, phone number and email address – at this point it’s important that you phone the chairperson and ask to have a meeting with them before the CPC. This meeting will be just with the Chair, yourself and your advocate. It’s important to present your evidence, a statement about the social worker’s report and any positive steps that you have taken/are taking to rectify any situation that the social workers might be concerned about. Discuss with the Chair what witnesses you want to bring to the CPC; if any of them are professionals and cannot make that date, you can ask for an adjournment so that they can attend. Keep in mind that the Chair has the final say and can override the opinions of all other participants. So establishing a good relationship with them (if at all possible), can influence what happens to you and your children.
It is vital that you take someone supportive and reliable with you to a CPC (a friend, family member or advocate). If you have a lawyer, they will be allowed to take notes but not to speak. If you don’t speak English very well, insist that an interpreter is present – Children Services must arrange this.
Your child/ren can attend if they are considered “old enough” (usually about 10 onwards), and able to understand and make their own decisions, what is called “Gillick competent”.  Children can bring an advocate (who can be any responsible adult, a lawyer or an official child advocate). iIf your child/ren are too young to attend or doesn’t want to, it is important that an advocate attends on their behalf. The Chair has the power to refuse to let someone attend but must give you reasonable grounds for doing so in writing.
If you are a victim of domestic violence you are entitled to request that you and the perpetrator are in separate rooms for the conference and that the Chair goes between the two.
Child Protection Plan
A Child Protection Conference decides (on the basis of a vote taken in front of you) whether or not your child should go on a Child Protection Plan (CPP). Such a plan will lay out what you are expected to do, what the father (if involved) is expected to do, and what children’s services will do. The plan should be in writing and you should be given a copy. If you disagree with the plan, the first place to raise this is with the Chair. The plan will also lay out the meetings that will take place following the Conference. A Core Group meeting must meet within 10 working days; this will continue monthly until the next Conference review, which will be 3 months after your initial conference. All dates will be agreed by everyone before the end of the Conference.
The meeting of the Core Group will be smaller and include social workers, teachers and your GP. It is their job to make sure anything agreed at the Conference is being implemented.