This article has relevance for people who live throughout the UK, however, please note that references made to legislation and procedures are for England only. Legislation, procedure and terminology will vary between all UK nations and you can find out more information about the UK’s child protection systems on the NSPCC website.
Coping with the aftermath of having your children removed by social services, or even being accommodated by the local authority under a voluntary agreement, is a very painful experience for parents and close relatives and traumatic for the children.
On this page
Understanding the process
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.
It may be your child is accommodated under a voluntary arrangement (also known as a Section 20 agreement). This means that the person with parental responsibility has agreed with social services for their child to go into care for a period of time. 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.
At the point that social services seriously considers applying to the court for a Care Order (compulsory removal into the care of children’s services) they should have notified you by letter to start the pre-proceedings process. Information about what the letter should detail are offered by Family Rights Group. At this stage you may want to get in touch with a solicitor to assist you with legal advice throughout the process. Child Law Advice have more details about care proceedings, including explaining your eligibility for non-means tested legal aid.
The purpose of the pre-proceedings meeting is to address the concerns around the child, agree a plan and avoid the need to start care proceedings. If social services think your child should be in care, and it is not an emergency situation, they should apply for an Interim Care Order (a short-term order placing the child into their care) and not remove your child unless the court makes the order. The social worker may ask if you will agree to your child being voluntarily looked after until the position is clearer, but you should always seek independent advice, preferably from a solicitor, if you have any doubts about whether this is a good idea, Family Rights Group or There For You Advisory Service may be able to give you some advice.
Immediate concerns for child safety
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 – at the police station or in suitable accommodation like foster care or the care of a relative – for 72 hours at the most.
If an Emergency Protection Order (EPO) has been made by the Court, because social services feel your child is in need of urgent protection, your child then becomes ‘looked after’ 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 try and get one immediately or seek legal advice.
Child Law Advice set out the details of police protection powers and EPO’s in more detail.
Where your child may go
Children’s services should first see if your child can be cared for by someone in your family (this is called ‘kinship’ care). If they are placed with a relative, that person has to be assessed 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. If your child is very young, the social worker may decide that your child can live with a foster family who may then go on to apply to adopt them (this is referred to as ‘concurrent planning’). If you do not want your child to be adopted, you should consult a solicitor immediately.
What may happen next
Following an EPO, if there are still concerns for your child’s safety, the court may make an Interim Care Order or Care Order, or a voluntary arrangement is made, which does not require a court order.
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, disagreeing with the decision is not a sufficient reason. 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. Family Rights Group give details of the specific grounds for appeal.
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 (IRO) who will be appointed as soon as the child starts to be looked after. They should be in touch with you in any case shortly after your child starts to be looked after and, after the initial two meetings, at least every six months. However, if you are unhappy about something in-between reviews and you don’t think the social worker is taking your concerns seriously, you can contact the IRO between reviews.
You should be given a copy of your child’s care plan (sometimes referred to as a ‘permanence plan’) and the placement plan that has more details about the actual placement, and you should be consulted about what is in it, and especially about contact arrangements for yourself, other relatives, and brothers and sisters who are not living in the same place. The permanence plan may propose that your child should leave care to be adopted or be placed permanently with a ’special guardians’- usually but not always a relative. These arrangements have to be approved by a court and you have a right to legal aid, so it is really important that you appoint and stay in touch with your own solicitor. The court will appoint a children’s guardian (also known as ‘Guardian ad Litem’), often via CAFCASS, to give an independent view about what should happen, and this person, as well as the child’s social worker, should make sure that the court is also aware of your views. The court must always put the child’s interest first, but you have a right for your views to be listened to and taken into consideration.
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 unanswered 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. You can also talk to us online via our live chat service, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other organisations that can help
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.
There For You Advisory Services also offer valuable support to help families who are involved with children’s services.