Anyone – from a friend or family member to a teacher or doctor, even a neighbour or passer-by – can raise concerns about the wellbeing of a child. When Children’s Services – a department of Social Services – is called in the UK, they have a legal obligation to investigate these concerns.
Who are Children’s Services?
Children’s Services are tasked with supporting vulnerable young people. They provide protection and assistance to children at risk and their families when additional support is needed. If concerns are raised about the welfare of a child or a child is thought to be at risk of harm, Children’s Services will step in to ensure the wellbeing of that child.
So… what happens when social services get called?
Children’s Services work to government guidelines which set out what they should do and what level of intervention they must take, depending on the concern being raised. The specific support provided may differ slightly from one area of the country to the other and it may also change over time as the level of concern for a child changes.
Unless the situation is very urgent and a child is thought to be at immediate risk, you’ll initially be contacted by Social Services to arrange for an assessment to take place. This assessment allows social workers to speak with you and your children, visit your home, determine the authenticity of the concerns, and identify any risk to the children in your home.
There are typically three possible outcomes to the assessment:
1. There is no risk, and no further action is required
2. A child is ‘in need’, and requires further input from social services. The type of input or support will vary, depending on the needs identified
3. A child is ‘at risk’, and immediate intervention is needed and again, what that intervention may be will vary depending on the facts and circumstances.
Many parents worry about the outcome of the assessment, wondering if and when social services can remove a child from the home, or if social services can stop contact without a court order. However, preventing contact or removing a child from the home is not the responsibility of Children’s Services. This can only be done with consent of all parties with parental responsibility or by order of the family court.
If a child is identified as being in need or at risk, social workers may ask parents to agree to a child staying with a relative or foster carer while further investigations are undertaken. However, they cannot remove your child from the home if you do not agree to it*, and it is always recommended that you seek legal advice before agreeing to such an intervention.
*if any child is deemed at immediate and urgent risk of harm and there is no voluntary agreement to remove a child from that environment, the child can be received into local authority care by police protection (the child may be placed with family/ friends/ foster carer). See our guidance on police protection and emergency protection orders for more details.
Usually, social workers will apply to the court if their concerns are serious enough to warrant such action and will do so on notice to all adults with parental responsibility for the children (unless there are reasons to justify that no notice is provided).
If care proceedings are started, you will be eligible for legal aid regardless of your financial circumstances. This means that you will not have to pay for any of the legal advice and representation you receive during the proceedings.
At National Legal Service, our team will apply for legal aid on your behalf and we have delegated functions that permit us to grant funding immediately for this type of case, so there will be no delay in you receiving the help you need.
We can also assist and support you in preparing your case before it gets to court, providing expert advice, helping you to better understand court proceedings, and ensuring that your side of the story is accurately presented to the judge so that the best decision can be made.
Can I Take Social Services to Court?
Social services do not want to separate families, and will only apply to remove a child from the home if there is reasonable belief that the child is at risk or susceptible to harm while in the home environment. However, sometimes the system does fail, and you may feel as though decisions have been made that aren’t in the best interest of your child.
The first steps towards addressing this are to write to your local authority, and then to the Local Government Ombudsman. If you feel unsatisfied with the responses, get in touch with our team to discuss the situation and identify the next best steps for your situation. Together, we may be able to challenge the decisions made, or claim compensation for any costs associated with suffering experienced due to incorrect social interventions.