Sometimes during their child’s lives parents can find themselves having to deal with Social Workers because of problems they are experiencing caring for their children due for instance to their own health or relationship problems, difficulties with children’s behaviour, issues surrounding schooling, a parent subject of bail conditions preventing unsupervised contact with a child or ultimately because a decision has been made by the Local Authority that a child or children needs to be removed from the family home for their own safety.
Social Services have a wide range of duties under the Children Act 1989 for example, identifying children in need and providing information about services available, assessment of children’s needs, prevention of neglect and abuse, providing accommodation for children in need or requiring protection.
Article 8 of the Human Rights Act provides for the right to family life and any interference with those rights must be just and lawful.
The Children Act 1989 Sch 2 s7 states that Social Workers must take reasonable steps to reduce the need to start court proceedings however in the majority of cases involvement of a social worker with a family can cause fear, confusion, suspicion and distress for the parents and the children concerned.
Often the only time parents seek legal advice is when they receive a letter from the Local Authority telling them about a Letter Before Proceedings Meeting which is a meeting to set out a list of concerns to a parent and discuss the steps they need to take to prevent court proceedings or Care Proceedings are issued. In these circumstances, any parent or person with Parental Responsibility for a child is automatically entitled to receive Legal Aid to cover the costs of representation in the meeting / proceedings and most will engage a solicitor.
However, in addition, it is very important for parents to be aware they are entitled to seek legal advice about the implications of Local Authority involvement at any level even when proceedings are not being considered, for example if a Case Conference is convened, Working Agreements are presented for signature which might restrict your movements/ relationships with others or you are asked to sign an agreement allowing your child to become a ‘looked after child’ under s20 Children Act 1989 meaning that they will be removed from a parent’s care with no set timetable or plan for their return and no court proceedings in place to regulate and monitor progress.
It is important to be aware that you are entitled to receive legal advice before signing any documentation concerning your child/ren and not to feel pressured in to doing otherwise.
Legal Help, which is a form of Legal Aid is available in most cases subject to means assessment provided you are not considered to be the reason why your child has been made subject of a Child Protection Plan.
If your child/ren are already in care and subject of a Care Order you are entitled to receive legal advice about any issues arising particularly concerning your contact and or to discuss whether there are sufficient grounds to apply to the court to discharge a Care Order.
We can help you with all aspects of Local Authority involvement with your family so if you are a parent and Social Services are involved with your family don’t hesitate to contact our family department.