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What is child protection?
Child protection is about making sure children are kept safe and free from harm. Local Authority Children’s Services often become involved with families where children might be at risk of harm.
Child protection means that professional services can intervene to protect a child where necessary. Many families view the involvement of the Local Authority in their family lives as intrusive and negative. The involvement of agencies can sometimes be crucial to protect children who are possibly being harmed or who might be at risk of significant harm.
Children deserve to be protected from all different types and levels of harm. Social services, health authorities, the police, probation, and young offending teams must by law all work together to ensure children are kept safe from neglect, emotional, physical, and sexual harm.
How does child protection work?
When social workers become involved with a family it is often assumed that they will remove the child from their parents or carers. It is normal to feel scared. Sometimes children who might have been harmed, or are at risk of being harmed, can be protected without court intervention. Child protection can be viewed as a ladder, demonstrating the different levels of intervention a family will experience based on the level of risk of harm to the child.
All children are entitled to universal services, like health and education. There would be no involvement by children’s social services as children in this category would be developing well and showing no worrying signs.
2. Child in Need plans
Children in Need in are children whose health or development will be significantly impaired without the provision of support; those children who have been assessed to have complex and serious needs where, without intervention, the child could become at risk of significant harm. Working with children and their families at Child In Need level requires the consent of parents or carers, as this is a voluntary service without statutory requirement.
Children become subject to a child in need plan when the authorities believe they will suffer a level of harm without intervention. The local authority will conduct a s47 enquiry to determine whether the risk to the child is substantiated or not. Following a s47 enquiry, the case may progress, or it may be that the child can be protected from harm with much less involvement.
3. Child Protection Plans
If concerns are substantiated following a s47 enquiry, and children cannot be kept safe on a Child in Need plan, they may be placed on Child Protection Plans. A meeting called a case conference will take place: all professionals involved with the family like health visitors, school and others, will attend the case conference and decide whether a Child Protection Plan is needed. If such a plan is made at the case conference, there will be meetings called ‘core group’ meetings every six weeks until the next case conference date. If things are going well and positive changes are being made there may be a decision to ‘step down’ to a Child in Need plan instead. You can ask a solicitor to attend the case conference meetings with you.
4. Pre proceedings
If things do not go well under the Child Protection Plan and little or no progress is made the Local Authority may send you a letter called a ‘pre proceedings’ letter. They will ask you to attend a meeting and bring a solicitor with you. This stage is often known as PLO or pre-proceedings and gives agencies and families the opportunity to work together, usually over a 12-week period to make changes. This allows agencies to assess the level of support needed to protect the child/ren involved and offer this. If all goes well and children are no longer deemed to be at risk of harm the case can be closed. If things don’t go well then the Local Authority might make an application to court.
5. Voluntary accommodation – s20
In some cases, the Local Authority may ask parents or carers to consent to a s20 accommodation before a case reaches court. This allows a child to be cared for safely in temporary accommodation, usually in foster care or with another family member, even if the threshold for a court order is not yet met. You should always seek legal advice if a social worker asks for your consent to section 20 accommodation. It is important to understand that voluntary accommodation under s20 is not a replacement for a care or supervision order directed by a court. The parent / carer can withdraw consent at any stage. S20(6) of the Children Act states that the LA must ascertain the children’s wishes and feelings where possible, as well as yours.
6. Care Proceedings
In cases where the issues are not resolved in pre-proceedings, or a child has been removed from home under a s20 arrangement, the case may go to court. This can be to apply for an interim order, a care order or a supervision order for example. Even if these orders are granted by the court, does not automatically mean children will be removed from their parents or carers. Children may be able to stay at home with support and close scrutiny. However, it may be decided by the Court that a child cannot be kept safe in their family home; in these cases, the child can be placed with another family member or a foster carer. Parents will often have contact with the children in safe environments, for example in contact centres, or supervised in the community. If the Court is not happy that the child can be safeguarded if they continue contact with their parents. Always seek legal advice.
How can we help you?
We understand that the Local Authority being involved with your children can be very stressful and that is why we are here to help and provide advice. We have experience in assisting parents at all stages of Local Authority involvement. Please contact Johnson Astills at either our Leicester Office on 0116 255 4855 or our Loughborough Office on 01509 610 312 and ask for a member of the Care Team so that we can advise you accordingly. Alternatively, please email us on firstname.lastname@example.org and a member of our team will be happy to assist you.