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What should I do if social services are involved in my family?

There are lots of misunderstandings about what happens when social services become involved with a family.  It may not necessarily lead to a child being removed from their parents.  There are also lots of different levels of involvement and stages to go through before a child is removed.

Usually social services become involved if concerns have been raised either by a family member, a health worker, a teacher or perhaps the police. These concerns are at a level where further investigations need to take place.  Social services are simply concerned with ensuring a child’s safety.

Social services could call a Child Protection meeting to decide whether they need to put in place a Child Protection Plan.  If they do, social services have to inform the parents as to why this step is being taken and what action the parents need to take to finish the involvement of social services in their family.    While a child is on a plan, there are regular visits by a social worker to monitor the family and regular reviews of the family to ensure the concerns that social services have are being addressed and dealt with.

If social services remain concerned, or the concerns are at a high level initially, the next stage is a “Public Law Outline” meeting, or PLO.  Again social services will inform the parents of their concerns, but at this stage they will decide whether or not more formal steps are required such as an application to the court for either a Care Order or a Supervision Order.

If court proceedings are issued, a strict timetable is put in place as the courts are under a duty to deal with the application in 26 weeks.  This is to ensure a decision is made for the benefit of the child in a timescale that is suitable for the child.

A Supervision Order is an order where Social Services have a legal power and a duty to monitor the child needs and progress.  The child will usually remain with their parents and the initial order lasts for a maximum of 1 year when first made, although it can be extended to 3 years.  Under this order social services do not have the power to remove a child from their home.  This might be suitable where a parent with care has had some drug or alcohol abuse issues, but has addressed them to the extent that social services no longer believe the child should be removed from their care but that ongoing support for a period of time is still needed.

A Care Order gives social services parental responsibility for the child and whilst the local authority will share parental responsibility with the parents for the child once an order is made, they have the final say over the child and where the child should live.  That might be in foster care or it may be with another member of the family but not the parents.

Ultimately the court has to decide what it in the best interests of the child.

What should you do if social services want to take action?  As a parent of a child you are automatically eligible for legal aid if either social services call a PLO meeting, or take court action against you.  In every case however, it is worth speaking with a specialist solicitor who is experienced in these types of cases.  They will be able to work with you to help you gain the best outcome in your circumstances.

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