Seeking support and legal advice when your child is in care
Talking to your child’s social worker is usually your first port of call
If your child is in the care system (whether with your agreement – referred to as ‘accommodated, or after a Court order has been made) being able to stay in touch with and have a positive relationship with their family is recognised as very important for them. Obviously, their safety and wellbeing are paramount and any risk in doing this is assessed before contact arrangements are agreed.
If a care or emergency protection order is in place then Children’s Services, which may also be called Children’s Social Care or Social Services Departments, will be involved. Their processes and procedures can seem quite complicated. Having the support of a friend or support worker who can go through them with you can sometimes help to provide clarification or a solicitor will be able to help if you need legal advice. You are eligible for legal aid once the local authority tells you that they are considering applying to court for a care order, so it is really important for you to consult a solicitor as soon as possible and discuss possible contact arrangements if your child does go into care.
As a parent, or other adult with parental responsibility, you do have a right to have reasonable contact with your child whilst they are in care, unless Children’s Services have court permission to stop this. In an emergency they have the power to suspend contact for up to seven days. Each child has a ‘care plan’ (sometimes referred to as a ‘permanence plan’) and a more detailed ‘placement plan’ which have to have details about contact, and parents must be consulted about these. Once the plans have been agreed, the written plans, including explaining the reason for the contact decisions and other arrangements, should go to the parent(s). If the permanence plan is for your child to be adopted it is very important for you to discuss with a solicitor or advocate or befriender what your views are about you and other family members (especially other children separated from the one who may be adopted) can retain meaningful links with the child. Often continuing contact can be arranged after a child is adopted so it is important to think about this so that this can be considered when adopters are being considered. You can speak to an organisation called the Family Rights Group about this and a charity called the Open Nest (who support individuals and families living with the consequences of traumatic events and specialise in supporting those affected by adoption).
The child’s social worker must assess the child’s contact needs with regard to keeping in touch with their siblings and other relatives, and you have a legal right to be consulted about this. The Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO), who reviews the plans every six months, and after any significant change in between review meetings, has the duty to ensure that this is considered and reviewed regularly. The social worker will liaise with the IRO but a parent or relative can also contact him or her directly and must be consulted in the review process and will usually be invited to attend the Review meeting. If you are not invited to attend the review meeting you can ask to see the IRO separately to make sure your views about contact arrangements are considered.
Whatever your situation, talking to your children’s social worker is usually your first port of call for information and advice on contact, and to ensure that your views and those of your child are being fully considered. Ask for an appointment to talk about your concerns for your child and find out if there are things you could do differently or change to make contact more likely to work well for your child and fit in with your own situation. Speak to a solicitor specialising in children’s law or to the advisers at the Family Rights Group for clarification and further information. They also have a range of factsheets on their website covering different family situations which are very informative.
Appreciating how distressing this situation could be and how isolated a parent could feel, support for mothers is also available from Mothers Apart from their Children – MATCH. They are a charity offering non-judgemental support and information to mothers apart from their children whatever the circumstances.
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Bounty is proud to bring you this information in partnership with www.familylives.org.uk. Family Lives is a charity with over three decades’ experience helping parents to deal with the changes that are a constant part of family life.
Comments on this article are monitored but NOT answered. However, Family Lives has extensive advice on their website, live chat services, and information about befriending services and parenting/relationship support groups. There is also a helpline and an online community forum offering a safe space for families to share dilemmas, experiences and issues with others who understand the ups and downs of family life. https://www.familylives.org.uk/how-we-can-help/forum-community/