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CHILDREN

AND
THEIR FAMILIES
HAVE RIGHTS

YOUR RIGHTS
INSIDE THE
CHILD
PROTECTION
SYSTEM AND
THE FAMILY
COURTS IN
ENGLAND AND
WALES
1
PAGE Information
1 Front cover
2 Index
WHAT IS IN THIS BOOKLET?

3-4 Introduction to the booklet


5-7 Your rights at every stage of
a child welfare inquiry or
request
8 Getting help early
9 The child in need process
10 The child protection process

11-12 Pre-proceedings and care


proceedings
13 Voluntary accommodation for
children

14 Parental Responsibility

15-17 Resources and Support

18 Back cover

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FOR EVERY CHILD AND THEIR FAMILY

Every family needs support at some point. You are not an unfit parent if you ask
for help, and getting support does not make you a bad parent.

A mother, father or carer who identifies that a need for their child is not being
met and tries to meet that need through help and support is clearly a
responsible and loving parent.

And when parents ask for help it should be available and given without
judgement or ill treatment.

Parents today are increasingly frightened to get support from children’s social
services in their area, even though social work should be there to provide help in
a compassionate and understanding way.

The global definition of social work defined in 2014 by the International


Federation of Social Workers says:

“Social work is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline that


promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the
empowerment and liberation of people. Principles of social justice, human
rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities are central to social
work… social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and
enhance wellbeing.”

This booklet has been written to empower you and your family, and to protect
your right to a compassionate service. The booklet gives you all the information
you need to understand your rights through the child protection process. These
rights are there to make sure your child and you are treated fairly and that you
are supported to make the best choices for your child.

The booklet also includes information about the process, how it works and what
you can expect as you go through the system.

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FOR EVERY CHILD AND THEIR FAMILY

While not everyone will go through the process in the way the booklet sets out
— some families may go back a few steps before going forward, others may go
from one stage to the next and not go back to other stages at all — the stages
themselves do not change.

It is one journey, with many different paths, but your rights exist and they are
yours to claim.

This booklet has been written with love, by Michele Simmons, Simon Haworth
and Natasha Phillips, as part of the work of the Children and Families Truth
Commission

The Truth Commission team is incredibly grateful to Jason Hedley


for producing the layout and graphic design for the booklet.

MICHELE NATASHA SIMON


SIMMONS PHILLIPS HAWORTH

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CHILDREN AND FAMILIES HAVE
RIGHTS

• Children and families have rights throughout the child protection


process which never go away. These include rights under Article 8 of the
Human Rights Act 1998, which says the child protection process must consider
the best interests of the child, their right to family life, and their right to be
cared for by their natural parents. Children have their own set of
independent rights which are set out in the United Nations Convention on
the Rights of the Child 1990. These rights recognise that the best interests of a
child are usually secured through supporting the child’s family.

• Social work professionals have a duty to explain what is happening and will
happen to you and your child in language and a format that you are comfortable
with. You can ask someone to explain something as many times as you need and
those requests should never be held against you. Support workers must talk
through any reports with you, and must speak to you politely and
respectfully.

• You have a right to challenge dishonesty or poor treatment. You can ask
your lawyer or independent advocate to challenge this behaviour on your
behalf.

• You should always ask for everything to be put down in writing or recorded
in a format you are comfortable with. It is also helpful to keep your own notes
and evidence, through emails, recordings, or any other format that works for
you.

• You are allowed to record every meeting and every phone call you
have with people working with you to support your child. It is good practice to
ask the child welfare professional if you can record the conversation or meeting.
Even if they say no, the law says you can still record. This is because there is
nothing in the Data Protection Act 1998 which prevents parents from
recording meetings or calls.
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CHILDREN AND FAMILIES HAVE
RIGHTS

• If the local authority decide to carry out an assessment of your child’s needs,
you do not have to wait until that assessment is finished before getting
any immediate help you might need.

• If your child is removed from your care, contact with your child should
be organised at the start of the child protection process. The local
authority must get a court order before stopping contact, unless there has
been an ‘incident’ which leads to an urgent need to pause contact (this break
in contact can only last up to 7 days), or if the quality of contact has gotten
worse over a long period of time.
• Wherever possible, child welfare professionals must ask your child
about their wishes and feelings during the process. If your child wants to
see you, that contact must be allowed unless there is a very good reason to
pause contact.
• There may be situations where child welfare professionals might think a child
is at risk of immediate harm. Even though this may involve your child being
removed from your care, sometimes without warning, social workers have a
duty to be honest and open with you about what is going on, and work with
you in a positive and non judgemental way.

• You are entitled to have legal advice and support throughout the child
protection process. If you cannot afford a lawyer, you will most likely be able to
get legal aid, which gives you access to a lawyer free of charge. You can also get
help from others, such as advocacy groups offering support and guidance. Some
groups may charge a fee while others are free.

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CHILDREN AND FAMILIES HAVE
RIGHTS

• You are entitled to know what is happening to your child at every stage of the
process and you must be included in any significant decisions being
made about your child. The only time this right is removed is when an
adoption order is made by a judge.

More information on social workers and their code of conduct

More information on your human rights during the child protection process

More information on the Human Rights Act 1998

More information on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child
1990

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EARLY HELP

• You can ask for help with your child at any time. You do not have to accept the
help that is offered if you do not feel it is appropriate. Getting help early can
prevent social services involvement with your child later on.

• Social workers must get your agreement (consent) and your child’s agreement
if they are old enough, before any early help assessments are carried out. Your
child’s wishes and feelings and your views must be taken into account

• An early help assessment must include evidence of the issues, the child’s
needs and any other evidence necessary to show there is a need for support.

• If you do not agree to an early help assessment, the local authority may still
offer suggestions about services and actions which could meet the needs of
your child and must explain to you that information about you will still be
recorded and shared for this purpose.

• If you do agree to an early help assessment, a professional will fill out a form
called an Early Help Assessment Tool, which holds information about you and
your child. The form belongs to you, is completely voluntary, and the
professional must work with you to fill it out.

More information about early help assessments

More information about the Early Help Assessments Tool

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CHILD IN NEED

• A concern about your child could be made to social services by a member of


the public, whether a professional or not, a child welfare professional, the
police, a family member of the child, or by you if you are asking for help.

• This is a voluntary process — you do not have to accept a referral to social


services. This process is about supporting you and your child’s needs.

• If you accept a referral, social services will think about what kind of
assessment might be needed (Section 17 assessments are carried out when
Children’s Social Care teams (CSC) believe a child is in need of support and to
work out what support they can offer.)

• If you do not accept a referral but there are genuine concerns about a danger,
social services can apply to the court for an Interim Care Order or very rarely,
an Emergency Protection Order (EPO). An EPO allows social services to remove
a child from his or her home without the consent of the child’s parents or
carers, but should only be used in exceptional circumstances. Even when these
orders are made, social workers have a duty to work with you and be in regular
communication with you, unless it is unsafe to do so.

• If there is a real emergency and waiting for an EPO would take too long, the
police can use the Police Protection Power to remove a child from his or her
home without court permission, but can only keep the child in their care for a
maximum of 72 hours.

More information on Section 17 and Section 47 assessments.

More information about Interim Care Orders

More information on Emergency Protection Orders

More information on Police Protection powers

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CHILD PROTECTION

• Social services can only begin child protection proceedings if your child is
suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm.

• Once a referral has been received, a local authority social worker must decide
next steps and inform you of what action will be taken within 24 hours of
getting the referral. This will take the form of a Section 47 enquiry, which is
carried out by social workers when they have a “reasonable belief” that a child
may be at risk of harm and to see what they may need to do to help the child.

• If social services decide there is no evidence of a risk of significant harm after


carrying out an assessment, a social worker must discuss the case with you and
your children to decide whether they can offer you any services that may be
helpful and to help you to access those services

• If an assessment shows evidence of significant harm, social services will hold a


child protection conference and put together a child protection plan with you.

• The child protection process involves social work, legal and health
professionals and includes different kinds of meetings, most of which you are
entitled to attend. These include discussions about what strategy to take and
meetings to ensure you and your child understand the process. You should be
given any paperwork relevant to your meetings in good time.

More information on Significant Harm

More information on the court process in child protection cases

Glossary of family court words and phrases

What meeting am I attending? Information about types of meetings and who


will attend them.

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CHILD IN PRE-PROCEEDINGS AND
CARE PROCEEDINGS

• Child protection cases are usually handled through public family law
processes, while divorce and separation cases are managed through private
family law processes. However, sometimes a private family law case can
become a public family law case if there are concerns about the safety and
wellbeing of a child experiencing divorce or separation.

• There are four types of child abuse or harm which can lead to a family being
involved with child protection professionals: physical abuse, emotional abuse,
sexual abuse and neglect.

• If a court order is made, the state will share responsibility for your children
with you, which allows he local authority to make key decisions about your
child’s life. These decisions should be made with you. Sharing parental
responsibility does not mean that the Local Authority has the majority of rights
when it comes to making decisions about your child.

• You should get legal advice as soon as possible. It is also likely that you will be
able to get free legal assistance through legal aid. Recommendations from
friends and social networks can be a good way to find a supportive and efficient
lawyer. You are entitled to attend all court hearings, unless there is evidence
that is unsafe to do so.

• A children’s guardian, usually from the Children and Family Court Advisory
and Support Service (CAFCASS) will legally represent your child in court. They
should spend time with you so they can get to know you and your child.

• Proceedings involve a series of actions which each have to be completed


within a specific time. These actions are set out in the Public Law Outline.

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CHILD IN PRE-PROCEEDINGS AND
CARE PROCEEDINGS

• Proceedings involve a series of actions which each have to be completed


within a specific time. These actions are set out in the Public Law Outline.

• Once the court proceedings have come to an end, the court will make a
decision about who your child should live with, and who they should spend
time with.

More information on Parental Responsibility

More information on the different types of abuse

More information on finding a lawyer

More information on legal aid

More information on the Public Law Outline (Flow chart)

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ACCOMM O DATION FOR CHILDREN

• Section 20 arrangements enable you to place your child in temporary local


authority housing for a variety of reasons, including situations where through
no fault of your own you cannot look after your child, or where communication
breaks down between you and your child.

• These arrangements are voluntary. This means that the local authority cannot
place a child in alternative accommodation unless you agree to the
arrangement. Always ask for a Section 20 arrangement to be put into writing —
our family and child friendly forms are added at the bottom of this box.

• If your child is accommodated under a Section 20 agreement, the local


authority must inform you and your child about your rights under these
arrangements, in language you are comfortable with and in a clear way.

• If you have parental responsibility for your child, you can remove your child
from accommodation provided by or on behalf of the local authority at any
time. If your child is 16 or 17, they can leave the accommodation at any time
without parental consent. Your child must be returned to your care
immediately if you decide to end the agreement.

• A Section 20 arrangement should never be used to secure care proceedings —


local authorities do not have the right to stop you ending this arrangement by
giving you the impression that it is final or compulsory.

More information on Section 20 arrangements

Section 20 consent form for parents (produced by Michele Simmons)

Section 20 consent form for children (produced by Michele Simmons)

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PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITY

• Parental Responsibility (PR) is defined in Section 3 of the Children Act 1989 as:
“the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of
a child has in relation to the child and his property”.

• The local authority never has the majority share of PR, even when it has a
right to share PR with natural parents. The local authority always shares PR
equally with natural parents.

• There local authority can only ever share PR with natural parents when the
court has granted an interim care order or a final care order. It cannot share PR
just for being involved with a family or agreeing to temporarily accommodate a
child under a S.20 agreement.

• If you do not agree with the local authority’s view on how to carry out a duty
for your child, you can challenge the local authority by submitting an
application to the court, so that a judge can decide the issue.

• You must be included in any decisions about your child, including those which
involve their education, nutritional needs, medical treatment, access to records,
going on holiday (abroad and at home), legal representation and the use of their
name, photo, video and any other identifying details, including their location,
for fostering, adoption and other purposes, online and offline.

More information on Parental Responsibility, who has it and how to get it.

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RESOURCES AND SUPPORT

SUPPORT AND ASSISTANCE

Parents Families and Allies Network (Simon Haworth is a co-founder of this


organisation)

Citizens Advice

Law Works (free legal support and advice)

GLOSSARIES AND HANDBOOKS

Glossary of words and phrases used in child protection

Glossary of organisations, words and phrases used in child protection

Handbook on the child protection process used by social workers

HUMAN RIGHTS

Social workers and their code of conduct

Your human rights during the child protection process

Human Rights Act 1998

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1990

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RESOURCES AND SUPPORT

ASSESSMENTS AND ORDERS

Early help assessments

Early Help Assessments Tool

Section 17 and Section 47 assessments.

Interim Care Orders

Emergency Protection Orders

Police Protection powers

CHILD PROTECTION MEETINGS AND


COURT HEARINGS

Significant Harm

The court process in child protection cases

Glossary of family court words and phrases

What meeting am I attending? Information about types of meetings and who will
attend them.

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RESOURCES AND SUPPORT

LEGAL PROCESS

Parental Responsibility

Finding a lawyer

Legal aid

The Public Law Outline (Flow chart)

SECTION 20 ARRANGEMENTS

Section 20 arrangements

Section 20 consent form for parents (produced by Michele Simmons)

Section 20 consent form for children (produced by Michele Simmons)

PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITY
Definition of Parental Responsibility, who has it and how to get it

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