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Coping with the aftermath of having your children removed by social services is a very painful experience for parents and close relatives. This can be a very traumatic experience for the children and their families.
Before deciding to remove your child into care because of concerns about abuse or neglect (sometimes referred to as ‘safeguarding’), unless there is an emergency situation, you will probably have been involved in child protection meetings. At the point that social services seriously considers applying to the court for a Care Order (compulsory removal into care) they should have notified you and held a ‘pre-proceedings meeting’ or sent you a ‘letter of intent’ to go to court. At this stage you have a right to a solicitor, which is free of charge and it is really important that you get in touch with one to assist you with legal advice throughout the process. Even if social services think your child should be in care, unless they have grounds to think that it is dangerous for him or her to remain with you, they should apply for an Interim Care Order and not remove your child unless the Court makes an order.
If there have been immediate concerns for your child’s safety, social services may have involved the police and there might not have been time for them to apply for a court order to remove your children. In this situation your child can stay in police protection for 72 hours at the most. If an Emergency Protection Order (EPO) has been made by the Court your child then becomes a looked after child and this order lasts for 8 days, with an extension of 7 further days possible. If you don’t already have a solicitor it’s important to get one immediately – you will not have to pay for this.
Children’s Services should first see if your child can be cared for by someone in your family and if this isn’t an option then unrelated foster care or a children’s home will be considered. If they are placed with a relative, that person has to be assessed as a foster carer by Children’s Services, although there is a process for temporary approval so that the child can move in before a full assessment has taken place. If no relative or friend can care for your child they will stay with an approved foster carer or in a children’s home.
Following an EPO, if there are still concerns for your child’s safety, an Interim Care Order or a full Care Order, made by the Court, or the agreement of someone with parental responsibility for your child to continue living in the accommodation found for them, is needed (referred to as Section 20 accommodation or ‘voluntary care’. But if you really do not want your child to be living away from you, you should say you don’t agree and make sure you get advice from a solicitor. You can appeal against a Care Order but you need to know that these are not often successful. There are limited reasons allowed for an appeal and you need to move fast if you want to explore this, so it would be advisable to speak to a solicitor as soon as you can.
The safety and security of your child will be paramount but the social worker should try to do all they can to cause as little disruption to their life as possible and should listen to your and your child’s views and take them seriously. Factors such as being able to live with their siblings, or continue to go to the same school should always be taken into consideration. If you have concerns about where your child is living, speak to your social worker and explain why and discuss any possible alternative there may be. If you are still unhappy you could ask to speak to the Independent Reviewing Officer who will be appointed as soon as the child starts to be looked after.
You should be given a copy of your child’s care plan as well as information and should be consulted about what is in it, and especially about contact arrangements. Children’s Services should take positive steps to make it possible for a child who is ‘looked after’ by them (whether ‘accommodated’ or under an Interim or Full Care Order) to have contact with close and wider family and friends, as long as doing so would not put them at risk. They have no obligation to help with travel and other costs associated with contact but they often do, so ask your child’s social worker if they can help you. The care plan, which includes the child’s contact arrangements, is reviewed at regular intervals, (a process led by an Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) which involves one or more meetings, at least one of which you should be included in). The initial review should take place no later than 4 weeks after the child becomes a looked after child. Then again after a further 3 months and 6 monthly after that, or when certain circumstances indicate that a change is needed.
The Family Rights Group is a charity providing advice, information and advocacy to parents and families whose children are involved with Children’s Services due to welfare needs or concerns. They have comprehensive advice sheets on their website and also a telephone advice line.
Whatever might have led up to your children being removed from your care, it’s understandable that your emotions might be in total turmoil, with lots of answered questions running through your head. Having support around you – close family or friends who you can lean on can be comforting. Our confidential helpline 0808 800 2222, offering a listening ear and emotional support, is here for you too so please don’t hesitate to contact us.
See Gov.uk for information on finding legal advice. Family Lives have a partnership with Simpson Millar Solicitors LLP who can offer you a 10% discount on their family law services which include legal advice on every aspect of family law and relationship planning and breakdown. Please fill in the form on the right to contact Simpson Millar.