Parents tell us that when social workers first knock on their door to investigate a concern they have received about a child that this can be a frightening, stressful and traumatic time. Parents have asked for more support and advice about their rights and more information for them about the child protection process.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Why do social workers come to make enquiries on my children?
Social workers are required by law to look into any concerns that suggest a child may be in need, being harmed or neglected in anyway. If a social worker has contacted you about a concern, it will be because they have been given information that they have to take seriously and discuss with you. This could be from the school, the doctor, police, hospital or from a member of the public. The purpose of the enquiry is to see whether there really are any concerns about your children and identify what support they or you might need.
The law requires the social care department to carry out a detailed enquiry called an initial assessment to see whether there are any concerns, and whether you need any additional support or help.
2. What does a Child Assessment involve?
A Child assessment is usually completed by a qualified social worker within 45 days. The social worker will gather as much information as they can from people who know your child and your family. This might include your doctor, your child’s teacher, school nurse or health visitor. The social worker will need to discuss the concerns with you and see your children.
During the enquiry the Social Worker will want to talk to you as parents/carers, members of your extended family (if appropriate) and to your children. It is an absolute requirement that the social worker looks around your home and is able to speak to your children individually and in private, if they are old enough and able to understand properly.
In some cases after just one visit, it becomes clear that the concerns are unfounded and that no further enquiries are needed. More often however, everything will not be clear after just one visit to you and your child and it will be necessary to make some more enquiries to get a clearer picture of the situation to know how best to help you and your children.
The social worker will write the Child Assessment report which should be shown to you. You should be offered a copy and asked to comment on anything you don’t agree with.
3. Does the social worker have the right to speak to my child’s school or health visitor without my permission?
In most cases the social worker will seek your consent to contact the other agencies (e.g. GP, school Police etc) before doing so. But in some cases where there are quite serious concerns about the safety of a child it may be necessary for the social worker to make contact without your permission. In law professionals have the right in some circumstances to share information about you and your children without your permission if it is necessary to protect the child.
It can be very difficult for both parents and professionals when it is necessary to share information that has been given in confidence but the child’s protection must outweigh issues of adult confidentiality. All professionals must keep their records confidential and only share what is necessary in them with other professionals who are involved with the child’s welfare. Throughout the enquiries you and your child/ren will be listened to and kept informed.
If information has been shared without your consent you should be informed that this has happened, and what the outcome of the checks were – i.e. whether the other agencies working with your family had any concerns.
4. Will my child be taken away from me?
In the vast majority of cases - no. Very few children have to leave home because of child protection concerns. The law requires all professional agencies in Lambeth to first and foremost support children to live with their own families, with the right help, advice and support from services wherever this is possible.
It is ONLY if children are in immediate danger of serious harm that they will be taken to a safe place. This could be the home of relatives or friends, foster carers or a children’s home. When this is needed the social worker will seek your agreement. If you are unable to agree, Lambeth’s Children’s Social Care will need to apply to a court for a legal order to keep your child safe. In most situations you will be informed that this is the plan and have the opportunity to get legal advice to oppose the application in court. You also need to know that Children’s Social Care can also apply to court if they believe there are serious concerns but you are refusing to allow access to your child.
In some cases children may be able to stay in their own home if another member of the household moves out and Children’s Social Care can assist with this.
Social workers cannot remove children from your care without the permission of the court. The police are able to do so but only for three days.
5. Will my child have to see a doctor?
It may be necessary for your child to be medically examined by a specially trained doctor, a paediatrician. This will be discussed with you and usually parents are asked to accompany the child to the examination. This is likely to be required if there is a suggestion that the child has injuries, or has been sexually abused, or has suffered from neglect.
6. What is a Child Protection Conference?
The child protection conference is a meeting of all the agencies that work with your family (i.e. health visitor, school, GP, social worker etc) and the police, who meet to consider whether the child is at significant risk and whether a protection plan is needed.
A child protection conference will usually be arranged within three weeks if the conclusion of the enquiry is that the child is at risk of significant harm and may need a protection plan to help keep the child safe from harm or abuse.
There is more information here.
8. What rights do I have?
Both the social worker and police officer (if involved) will remind you that you have certain rights during the course of their enquiries. These include the right:
• To be treated with respect by professionals who have an open mind about relationships within your family.
• To be given a clear explanation about what is happening and possible future action.
• To have all decisions clearly explained.
• To be listened to and your views asked for and recorded.
• To be adequately supported by anyone you choose.
• To seek legal advice.
• To appropriate confidentiality.
• To an appropriate interpreter if required.
• To complain if you are not satisfied with the service you have received.
• To see reports and assessments that social workers have written and have your views considered and noted.
• To have your race, religion and culture respected, taken into account and carefully considered in any assessment.
9. What am I not allowed to do in the UK as a parent?
The laws in the UK may not be familiar to all parents who come to live in the UK from abroad and some parents have asked us to explain what is and isn't allowed. The law in the UK is clear that any chastisement that leaves marks and bruises or damages a child emotionally or mentally is unlawful. These practices are not acceptable in any culture of the world and are equally against the law in the UK. The LSCB itself would recommend that parents do not use physical chastisement (smacking) at all.
This does not mean that children should be allowed to do whatever they want. Parents need to exert appropriate discipline, guidance and care over their children, and use non violent forms of discipline or sanction.
Most children respond to clear, firm and consistent boundaries, and being treated with respect by parents who love them.
If you need support to manage your child it is better to ask for it at an early stage than wait for things to get out of control. You can find support for yourself as a parent by contacting one of Lambeth’s Children’s Centres (for under 5 year olds) or Parent Line Tel: 0808 800 2222.