Social services have a legal duty to safeguard children in need and to promote their welfare. Wherever possible the upbringing of vulnerable children should continue within their family group, with social services providing a range and level of services appropriate to those children’s needs.
However, there are occasions where social services have to take action to protect children from harm caused to them by their own family. In extreme cases this can involve an urgent application to the court for a child to be placed with other relatives, or in foster care.
Bretherton Law have an established team of legal experts who can help to guide parents and other relatives through this very stressful process. We provide specialist legal advice and representation, backed up by practical suggestions and pathways to enable the child to return to the family. Guidance as to where to seek the right help is an important first step in keeping families together.
Case study 1
Mr X has two teenage boys, both of whom were thought by social workers to be suffering harm. Their school attendance was poor and they were under-achieving. The boys rarely left the house and when they did it was often to meet up with an unsuitable group of friends. Their mother had become addicted to cocaine, and her behaviour had become withdrawn and unpredictable. Her relationship with the boys had deteriorated so much that they could barely communicate with her. Mr X struggled to find a way forward.
Social services began court proceedings and initially asked the court to approve placing the boys in foster care. With the help of Bretherton Law this initial traumatic change was avoided. Mr P worked to understand the impact of his wife’s drug abuse, while she in turn sought help for her addiction and agreed to move out of the family home.
Mr X and the boys were given support by children’s social care services to understand what had happened, and offered help to improve their own relationships. Contact visits with the boys’ mother started slowly but increased as they saw her own health improve.
Assessments demonstrated that Mr X was able to provide the right level of care for his children and Bretherton Law were able to help in ensuring that the boys remained with him at the end of the court process. They are all looking forward to a brighter future.
Before concerns for children within families reach the point of legal proceedings there are a number of lower level interventions available to social services, and these can help to prevent difficult situations from escalating. They arise under the Children Act 1989 and include:
Section 17 Child in Need Assessment – where an assessment leads the social work team to decide a child needs support. Services will be offered to the family such as parenting advice and courses; referring on to other support services, including mental health or drug and alcohol agencies; advice and education concerning vulnerability to domestic violence.
Section 47 Child Protection Enquiry – where the social work team assesses that a child has suffered or is at risk of suffering significant harm and a multi-agency approach is necessary to coordinate and implement a Child Protection Plan.
Public Law Outline – applies in cases where the social work team believe that a Child Protection Plan does not go far enough to protect the child, or where the Plan is not working. The Local Authority will invite parents to attend a meeting along with their solicitor, in order to advise the parents how serious things have become and what needs to change to avoid care proceedings.
Case study 2
Jo is in her early 20s. When she was 17 she became pregnant. The father of the child had a number of issues arising from his troubled upbringing. He struggled to control his emotions and on occasions was violent towards Jo whilst she was pregnant, though he always apologised and promised it would not happen again. He had a police record and before the baby was born social services had been alerted to the risk he posed to Jo and the baby. The baby was made subject to a Child Protection Plan pre-birth, which required that both the father and Jo would take part in relationship counselling and would undertake domestic abuse education.
Jo now says she wishes she had listened to the advice. Neither parent did the work that was recommended. Their relationship did not improve, and social services were told of several police call-outs where neighbours reported hearing fights between the couple while the baby was with them inside their flat.
Social services instigated court proceedings, which resulted in the removal of the baby from the mother and father. The baby was placed under the care of Jo’s parents, where she still remains under a formal Special Guardianship Order.
Jo eventually separated from the father but it was too late for her to keep her child, whose future is now secure with her grandparents. She is seeing her mum regularly.
Jo began a new relationship and fell pregnant once more. Because of the family history social services were notified by the GP surgery when she first checked in with the midwife. Again concerns over the father’s background were identified. Social services made an assessment and the unborn baby was made subject to a Child Protection Plan.
This time Jo did things differently – she attended courses, she learned a lot and she listened to and implemented advice. She put her unborn baby first. With the support and advice of Bretherton Law Jo was able to show that the baby would be safe in her care and this time proceedings were avoided.
Bretherton Law offers legal aid for certain types of children’s cases involving social services.
A parent is entitled to free legal aid for both care proceedings in relation to their child, and for the earlier PLO process. Help within the Child Protection process may be covered, subject to financial assessment.
Other relatives can apply for legal aid but unless they have parental responsibility for the child it is subject to assessments of both merits and finances.
The Children Law department at Bretherton Law have been helping families in Hertfordshire for over 50 years, offering professional, experienced and sympathetic advice to those in need. We are proud to be accredited by the Law Society in Children Law, and are members of Resolution, the organisation representing family lawyers and other professionals in the field committed to working constructively to seek the best outcome for children.
Contact us on 01727 869293, or via our website: https://www.brethertonlaw.co.uk/