Understanding the role of social services

Understanding the role of social services

For many families, the prospect of dealing with social services is a daunting one. There’s a common perception that the involvement of social workers means a child is about to be removed from the family home, but it’s important to know that isn’t always the case.

Understanding the specific role of social services can help to alleviate the fear, stress and anxiety often associated with dealing with social services for the first time.

What is the purpose of social work services?

Many countries around the world have a social care provision. In England, social services form part of the local authority or council. Their purpose is to provide support and care to safeguard the wellbeing of children and vulnerable adults within their local authority area.

If that sounds like a fairly broad mandate, it’s because it is. Within their remit of ensuring the health, safety, and general wellbeing of children, they may be called upon to fulfil a wide range of roles and deliver a variety of support services.

Regardless of the nature of social services’ involvement with your family, their purpose is always the same. That is to ensure that all children within the local authority area (along with vulnerable adults), have a safe and healthy living environment where their educational, health and other needs are being met.

What do social services do?

As we have seen, social services are tasked with ensuring the wellbeing of children and other vulnerable persons. That means they offer a wide range of services and undertake a variety of duties. Sometimes, they will work in collaboration with third parties (such as charities) to deliver those services.

Examples of how social services may become involved with your family include:

  • After receiving a request for help or practical support from a parent or family member.
  • Following a referral from a related third-party such as a teacher or a healthcare professional.
  • As a result of a police notification – often because of concerns around violence, drug or alcohol abuse, or neglect.

The type of services provided will vary from case to case, in line with the child and the family’s needs.

For any family, receiving a letter from social services can be incredibly distressing. If you haven’t had prior dealings with social services, you may be unsure as to exactly what comes next.

One of the first things that social care workers will do is conduct an assessment. This assessment will help social services to understand how the child in question is being cared for, to investigate any areas of concern, and identify additional support or other appropriate measures needed to ensure the child’s wellbeing.

The assessment may conclude that there is no cause for concern, and no further action will be taken.

If the assessment shows that the child is at risk, social services may request they be voluntarily removed from the home and placed with another responsible adult. This could be a family member or a temporary foster carer. Social services can’t do that without your permission or a court order. If the situation warrants it, police protection for the child may be requested, allowing that child to be placed in the care of the local authority without parental consent.

Social services may issue care proceedings if they uncover evidence that suggests the child’s wellbeing is at risk. In this case, they’ll make an application to the family court. If a Care Order is then granted, the local authority will assume a share of parental responsibility for the child. Social services will subsequently implement a care plan to ensure the child’s needs are met.

If a Supervision Order is issued by the courts, social workers will work with the child and his or her family to provide support and assistance as needed.

It’s important to recognise that social services can be a very helpful resource for many families. If a child exhibits challenging behaviour for example, social care workers can provide support to the family. This could include arranging a temporary residential care stay or foster care to give parents a respite break. They can also help families to access necessary support services or provide equipment and other resources should the child have special needs within the home.

Reasons why social services can take my child?

Social services exist to provide support and resources to local communities. They will only seek to remove a child from the family home if they believe the child is at an immediate risk of harm and the risks of that harm cannot be managed. That harm could be in the form of physical harm, because of domestic abuse, parental illness, or due to issues such as drug and alcohol abuse.

If you’ve received a notification of care proceedings from social services, it’s important to seek legal advice promptly. Our experienced family solicitors can provide support and guidance during this time. Contact us to discuss your situation in confidence.

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