Tish Reel – Care Supervisor
Family life can be the most rewarding thing but at times can also be tough. And since the announcement in March last year, that England was going into full lockdown, the lives of most families changed overnight without warning. For many this meant working from home and trying to home-school the little darlings at the same time. For some it meant lots of good quality family time with all or most of the household suddenly home together day in and day out.
But it is important to remember that this for many was and still is an extremely stressful time; Parents have had to adjust to working from home, whilst simultaneously becoming become educators overnight, with little or no break in between. The lockdowns have placed strain on relationships between parents and many family finances have become over stretched. Being home with one another all day every day at times can be stressful and separated parents were faced with difficulties in being able manage arrangements for the children to spend time with the “non resident” parent. Grandparents and other people who we were able to rely on for support before the lockdown could no longer help in the same way and moreover, for many of us there is the constant worry about “the Virus”.
For some families, particularly those who already had some level of social services involvement in their lives the worry at the forefront of their mind has been, “will social services take my child away” if we as a family are struggling?
In my experience, different local authorities have approached the issue in different ways, but for the most part, it is the same as it has always been, which is, the local authority will always try and work with families first, unless of course it is a very serious safeguarding emergency requiring high level and immediate action.
Social services have been able to support many families, by offering basic support such as food vouchers, advising parents that vulnerable children and key worker children could still attend school during the lockdown to ensure children were supported but also monitored, and helping families to access support services, where needed. And for many families, this was all that was required. Children stayed at home with their families with support in place.
Sometimes a little more help is needed. This might include the social worker visiting families face to face where possible but often checking in using video calls and telephone calls and monitoring concerns such as conflict in the family home, or concerns that families needed more support to help meet the children’s basic or emotional needs consistently. Sometimes referrals were made to agencies to work with social services to support families, such as domestic abuse organisations or providers of mental health services, to try and get families the help they needed to cope with new, or worsening pressures caused by the Lockdowns. Social Services may work with a family under a Child in Need Plan, or if more support and monitoring is required, under a Child Protection Plan.
What is clear is that we have seen a surge of families requiring social work support or input during the Lockdowns, for most this this meant getting the help they need to support them in managing issues at home as a family.
For a small number of other families, the pressures and strains of lockdown have had an extreme impact on them. For some of these families, social services have needed to set up a Legal Planning Meeting to decide whether to take court action or setting out a plan to continue to work with the family in a final attempt to help resolves their concerns.
Where concerns remain unresolved, Social Services may start court proceedings, sometimes seeking orders just to oversee arrangements at home, and sadly on other occasions, to place the children away from the family home with family or friends or foster care initially. From my experience this has mainly, but not always been the case with families who have already had some element of social services involvement with their family before the Lockdown and where social services feel concerns have got worse, not better.
But the important point to take away is that Social Services cannot just remove your children because you, like millions of other households across the country are struggling with the Lockdown. The Law has not changed, social services still have a duty to try and support families to enable them to care for their children at home, by offering support and services and advice in the first instance where this will enable children to safely remain at home with their families. In most cases, this is all that is needed and only in a small number of cases will this not be enough.
In a small number of cases social services consider that children cannot safely remain at home. This is usually only if something extremely serious has happened and any risk cannot safely be managed at home.
Remember, social workers do not have the power to remove your child from your care, unless this is ordered by the court, you agree that your child should be removed, or police use emergency police protection powers to remove your child(ren) for up to 72 hours. Unless there is an emergency, social workers should not apply to court for an order saying that they can remove your child without first letting you know that they plan to do this and working extremely hard with you and your children, to improve the situation for your child first.
If social services are involved with your children and you need advice, please do not hesitate to contact our specialist childcare team.