Contacting social services for support with your child

6min read

Parents and child playing in park

Children sometimes experience serious difficulties. If the challenges facing your family are making your lives so hard that your child’s health or normal development are affected and you are without support, then you may be considering contacting Social Services.

If you have made this decision to seek support or services that are not available through your GP, school or a community group or youth group, you can contact your local authority’s Children’s Services department and ask for a child in need assessment. You can find contact details of your local services by looking online, phone book and on the local authority website. There may be a local office or centre where you can ask to see a social worker, but more often the system is for you to phone a duty or assessment team (sometimes referred to as Multi-Agency Assessment team (MASH) Before you speak to a social worker, it may be a good idea to sit down and think about how you can explain clearly what the problems are.  It might help to ask yourself:

  • How severe are they and how long have they been going on?
  • What sort of service or support will help you and your child?
  • What might happen to your child if help is not offered?
  • Who else is involved with your child, including family members and professionals, for example a health visitor or teacher as these people may also be able to give useful information about what might help your child.

You can speak to the Family Rights Group as they offer advice and information about Social Services procedures. It might be helpful to speak to them first, as they can go through the process with you in more detail and help support you through this difficult time.

The assessment

If, after talking to you about the problems you and your family are experiencing, the Social Worker decides that your child may be a “child in need”, they will carry out an assessment.  This means a social worker will consider your child’s situation in more detail. 

Issues they may look at are:

  • Your child’s needs
  • To what extent can you meet these needs
  • What has been tried before
  • Your child’s extended family situation
  • Your Housing and financial situation like are there benefits you are eligible for and not claiming
  • What childcare support you have etc. 

You and your child should expect to be fully involved in the assessment.  The assessment should not usually take more than 45 days, but urgent and/or clearly needed practical help can be provided whilst the fuller assessment is going on, so you should make sure the social worker knows about practical needs that are causing stress.

Your child’s needs should be assessed following: Working Together 2013

  • your local threshold documents
  • your local protocol for assessment

There is a legal definition of ‘a child in need’ on which social workers have to base their decision, but there are also local thresholds to decide about priorities. It will be helpful to ask the social worker involved with your child for a copy of the threshold documents and the assessment procedure which is followed in your area so that you know what to expect and how to ask for the decision to be reviewed if you disagree with it. By the end of the assessment the social worker should have a clearer picture of your child’s situation and will have decided whether your child is a ‘child in need’. You should ask the social worker to give you a written note about the decision (especially if he or she has decided that your child is not ‘in need’ and they are not going to be able to help) and how he/she reached a decision. If you are not happy with the decision you should ask what you can do to get it reviewed. If the decision is that your child is eligible for ‘child in need’ services and support, The social worker will  then go through with you the next steps and what help and support will be given to you and your child. 

Child in Need plan

Child in Need Plan will be made if the assessment shows that your child is in need of practical services. A meeting will usually be arranged where professionals, who know your family, will discuss with you the support you and your child may need.  It is important for you to contribute to the plan and be involved in this process. The plan should contain statements about;

  • What help will be provided to your child and family as a whole that will help a child assessed as ‘in need’
  • How long the help will be available
  • What difference the help is expected to make to your child
  • When the plan will be looked at again to check it is working

It may seem a little worrying for many families to find themselves in the situation whereby Social Services has become involved with their family. However, it is important to work together with the Social Worker to make sure that this plan does help your child and your family. Other people such as relatives or friends who are important to your child will also probably be involved. 

Making a complaint

If you don’t agree with a decision made by a child’s social worker or the Children’s Services department they work for, please see the Family Rights Group website for information about this process.

Further resources 

It may help to chat to other parents on our forums to find out how they are dealing with this issue within their family life. You can also talk to us online via our live chat service, email us at or call us on our helpline on 0808 800 2222 to speak to trained family support worker.

This page was updated on February 2018