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Social workers are knocking at my door – what should I do?

Cropped view of collector knocking on door with hand

There are lots of reasons for a social worker knocking on your door to talk to you about your children. Very often it’s to check the children are safe. Sometimes it’s response to a referral from school, the police or health services.

The outcome to these visits can be dependent on the seriousness of the allegations or the cooperation they receive during their visit. A shut door usually results in escalation.

The social worker may only need one visit to be reassured (called an initial assessment) or they may want to make more detailed enquiries (called a S47 investigation) and talk to other people who know your children. In serious cases you may be asked to give consent to your child living elsewhere. This is sometimes known as S20 consent.

If the social worker feels you need support, they may suggest that your children have a child in need plan. This is a document that sets out what support is needed and how it will be provided.

If the social worker thinks there are ‘risks’ to your children they might recommend that the children become the subjects of a Child Protection Plan. This will be decided at a meeting that a number of professional people attend. It means they are worried about your children. A child protection plan will set out what needs to change. It can also focus on support needed to bring about that change. If your child is subject to child protection plan this usually requires regular meetings with a social worker. The plan is brought to an end by recommendation of a further formal meeting called a Child Protection Review Conference.

If the social worker is very worried about your family you may be asked to attend a Pre Proceedings Meeting.

What is a Pre Proceedings Meeting?

This is a formal meeting when the social worker will have a lawyer present and you are able to take your own solicitor with you. At that meeting a plan will be discussed to hopefully avoid proceedings being issued by the local authority. What happens in these meetings has taken on greater significance recently as the court have said assessments undertaken in Pre Proceedings should be relied on when proceedings are issued and there will not be the need for further assessment.

If Pre Proceedings does not bring about a successful outcome or if the risks are seen as too high and immediate the local authority may issue proceedings in respect of your children. The outcome of those proceedings could be

  • That they stay at home living with you
  • That they go and live with a family member
  • That they go and live with professional carers (like a foster carer or a residential home)
  • That they are adopted (depending on their age)

At any and every stage you need legal advice and we are always here to provide it.

We are often asked what advice we give at first interview. This of course varies dependent of the level of local authority intervention and your particular circumstances but there are some consistent themes:-

  1. Make sure you know what they are worried about

Read the documents filed in proceedings. Understand what they are worried about.

Sometimes a change can be something simple like home conditions which can (with support) be quickly remedied.

If things need to change the earlier you start to do that the more positive the outcome

  1. Don’t see the social worker as the enemy

This isn’t always easy. Especially if the social worker has removed your children. A better approach is ‘I know you have a job to do. I don’t have to like you but I do need to work with you. I need to show you that I can care for my children safely’. Do not see it as a battle between ‘us’ and ‘them’

  1. Keep a diary

You will lots of appointments with lots of people. Make sure that you keep a record of them and that you attend

  1. Attend contact

If the children are not living with you but you are seeing them, make sure you attend regularly and on time.

  1. Challenge appropriately

Working cooperatively with a social worker doesn’t mean you cannot challenge their decisions if they are wrong. Such challenges are best discussed with your solicitor as they will help you ‘pick your battles’

  1. Remember Objective 1

Objective 1 is to make sure YOUR children are living with YOU. You may have an uncomfortable few weeks through the assessment but if you do not engage your children may be living outside your care for years.

  1. See the change through your children’s eyes

If you make the changes sought your children are likely to be happier and safer and that’s a good thing.

  1. Be honest

If you are not in nearly every case you will be found out. Social workers can work in lots of situations but they won’t work with you if you are dishonest. They will say they cannot keep your child safe if you lie.

  1. 26 weeks

The court proceedings will be complete no later that 26 weeks. If that sounds like a long time – it isn’t. Assessments come in much earlier than that. The clock is ticking from the moment of issue.

  1. Reports for the judge

Remember that each professional you see is going to write a report for the judge. You can have some control over what they right in how you treat them.

  1. Family members

If there are members of your family who are willing and able to care for the children tell us who they are and have conversations with them. They will need to know that the social worker will want to met them and ask them questions. They may need to talk to their children’s schools and enquire with the police and local authority to see if there are any risks in placing the children with them.

We appreciate that having a social knock on your door and dealing with them going forward, be that as a child in need or as a child before the court can be emotional and stressful. We are here to help you with clear and focussed advice from our experienced child care team and our 9 Accredited Children Law specialists.