Social services - children & family

Social services will often notify you of their involvement in your child’s welfare with a ‘letter before proceedings’. If social services have contacted you it’s important that you are represented by someone who understands the legal process. Call us on 0203 816 0548 for a free, no obligation initial chat with one of our legal advisors, alternatively complete our online enquiry form and a member of our award winning family law team will contact you directly to discuss your situation.

If you have received this letter it could mean that social services and the local authority are concerned about your child’s welfare and have reason to suspect that your child is not being properly looked after. The letter may also indicate that the local authority believes the child’s needs – particularly behavioural needs – are too severe for you to manage alone.

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Letter before proceedings

The letter is notification that the local authority is considering asking the court if they can take your child into care.

The letter will explain why the local authority wants to do this and the reasons can be wide ranging. Pay close attention to the content of the letter and consider what steps you could take to address the local authority’s concerns.

The letter will contain details of a meeting, which you must attend. You should get help from a family law solicitor and ask them to attend the meeting with you. If you are a parent or have parental responsibility, you will not have to pay your solicitors costs if you provide them with a letter before proceedings.

If you do not attend this meeting, or address the local authority’s concerns the local authority will almost certainly make an application to court. They can then apply for an interim care order which may lead to your child being removed.

If an interim care order is granted, the local authority will share ‘parental responsibility’ for your child, meaning they can make decisions about your child’s life, including when and where they go to school, who they are allowed to see and whether they get medical treatment. This period could last a few days, weeks, months or until the court makes a final decision over who should look after your child.

A letter before proceedings is often a last chance to convince the local authority that you are willing and able to make changes to the way you look after your child. If you do not or are unable to make these changes, the local authority will almost certainly make an application to the court.

I’ve received a social services ‘letter before proceedings’ – what should I do?

If you have received a letter before proceedings, it could mean that social services and the local authority are concerned about your child’s welfare and have reason to suspect that your child is not being properly looked after. The letter may also indicate that the local authority believes the child’s needs – particularly behavioural needs – are too severe for you to manage alone.

The letter is notification that the Local authority is considering asking the court if they can take your child into care.

The letter will explain why the Local authority wants to do this and the reasons can be wide ranging. Pay close attention to the content of the letter and consider what steps you could take to address the Local authority’s concerns.

The letter will contain details of a meeting, which you must attend. You should get help from a family law solicitor and ask them to attend the meeting with you. If you are a parent or have parental responsibility, you will not have to pay your solicitors costs if you provide them with a letter before proceedings.

If you do not attend this meeting, or address the local authority’s concerns the local authority will almost certainly make an application to court.  They can then apply for an interim care order which may lead to your child being removed.

If an interim care order is granted, the local authority will share ‘parental responsibility’ for your child, meaning they can make decisions about your child’s life, including when and where they go to school, who they are allowed to see and whether they get medical treatment. This period could last a few days, weeks, months or until the court makes a final decision over who should look after your child.

A letter before proceedings is often a last chance to convince the local authority that you are willing and able to make changes to the way you look after your child. If you do not or are unable to make these changes, the local authority will almost certainly make an application to the court.

Social services are coming to my house – what should I do?

If you have been contacted by social services and they wish to visit you in your own home, this is usually because they have received a ‘referral’ from a member of the public or another organisation. This referral is often as a result of concerns about your ability to look after your child or children.

Once a referral is made, social services will make a decision as to which steps they should take. If social services are coming to see you, it is because they wish to investigate further. This investigation is called an ‘assessment’.

During an assessment, the local authority will attempt to learn more about the needs of the child and how capable you are of looking after those needs.

As well as visiting you and your children in the family home, the local authority may also visit your child’s school, your doctor or health visitor in order to get as much information as possible.

The purpose of an assessment is to find out if the referral was accurate and if there is any cause for concern regarding the child’s welfare. Usually, the local authority will want to know if the child is in any danger or if they are likely to suffer significant harm.

You should cooperate fully with the assessment. Failure to cooperate will cause the local authority to be increasingly concerned.   Among some of the questions they may ask are; ‘are there any adult problems affecting your care of the children such as domestic violence and alcohol and drug misuse?; ‘do the children have sufficient clothes?’; ‘can I see some of the children’s toys?’; ‘do the children sleep in their own beds?’; ‘do the children visit the doctor or dentist regularly?’

A specialist children’s law solicitor can provide you with further information about what you should expect. You may qualify for financial support towards the cost of instructing a solicitor.

Social services want to interview my child – what should I do?

If social services have asked to speak to your child then it is likely that they are concerned about their welfare. This could mean because they suspect that the child is at risk of significant harm, or has already been harmed. It may also be because they believe the child’s needs are not being met.

By speaking to your child, social services – who act as part of the local authority – will hope to gather more information and evaluate how well the child is being looked after.

As well as speaking to your child while you are present, social services are also permitted to speak to them in private. Many parents will - understandably - find this difficult, and common concerns are that this will upset the child or the child will be pressured into saying things which are not true.

However, if you refuse to allow social services to speak to your child, this may be perceived as evasive behaviour. They could apply for a child assessment order – where you will have a legal obligation present your child for assessment – or even an emergency protection order (EPO) or care order. With any of these orders, social services could remove your child from your care against your wishes.

Therefore, it is very important that you allow social services to see your child, after contacting a family law solicitor for further advice.

If you are a parent, you may not have to pay your solicitors costs.

Social services want to take my child – what should I do?

Removing a child or children from the care of their parents is one of the most severe steps social services can take. However, they are not able to take such a step in isolation.

In order to begin the process of removing a child, social services must meet one of three criteria:

  1. Either you, or another person with parental responsibility, has agreed
  2. The court has made a ‘care order’ or ‘emergency protection order’ which gives social services the right to remove your child
  3. The police has taken steps to remove the child without a court order. Note: this is only ever done under very serious circumstances and the child can only be removed from the home for up to 72 hours

Furthermore, before a court will grant social services the right to remove a child from the home, the local authority will have to show that it has done all it can to support you and your child and to remedy the situation. This will usually include a letter to indicate their initial concerns and inviting you to a ‘pre-proceedings meeting’.

If you have received court papers from the local authority you should contact a specialist children’s law solicitor immediately.

Without professional, expert guidance, it will be much more difficult to successfully challenge any steps to remove your child.

If you are a parent or have parental responsibility, you will not have to pay your solicitors costs in relation to these types of proceedings.

When can social services intervene?

Social services are responsible for ensuring that children are safe and well looked after by their parents or guardian.

If social services receive information – either from a member of the public, or professional such as a doctor or teacher - which leads them to suspect a child may at risk of significant harm, or that their needs are not being met, they are obligated by law to take action to protect that child.

Depending on the severity of the information received, social services may decide to:

  • Gather further information – known as ‘child protection enquiries’
  • Apply to the court to have the child removed

However, it is important to note that without the permission of the court, social services are unable to remove the child from the parent. The only exception to this rule is where they believe the child is in immediate danger, at which point the police can intervene and remove the child for no more than 72 hours.

Contact Stephensons

If social services have taken your child into care, or have threatened to do so, it’s important that you are represented by someone who understands the legal process. Call our award winning team on 0203 816 0548 or complete our online enquiry form.

 

Child Proceedings Video Panel

  • Child Care Proceedings - Family Law 

    Head of Stephensons family team Mike Devlin and specialist solicitor Jackie Price talk about our experience representing parents, children and other family members on issues relating to children. No matter how difficult or complicated the circumstances, Stephensons’ experienced child care lawyers are committed to securing the best possible outcome for you and your family.
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