June 3, 2016 2:00 pm
Many of you will make referrals when you are worried about a child. Where that referral goes is not often really thought about. In this blog I’m giving you a quick tour from referral to care proceedings.
When a disclosure is made there are reporting and recording procedures to follow and they result sometimes in a Section 47 enquiry. This involves basic enquiries being made by social services around whether or not a child’s welfare is at risk of harm. In some circumstances that enquiry results in a further intervention with the family, which might be on a Child in Need basis. This is a low level intervention with social services which involves visits, or it may be that the concern is such that there has to be a Child Protection Plan. This results from a conference that takes place and an initial Child Protection Conference to start off with, and then they are reviewed on a six-monthly basis.
With these low level interventions, there’s a lot of opportunity for work to be done with families and a lot of opportunity for other professionals to become involved with families in order to safeguard the welfare of the children. However, if the situation is such that none of those interventions work, then a Local Authority will look at what else needs to happen in order to safeguard children.
It may be that the next step taken is that of a pre-proceedings meeting and this meeting is basically an opportunity for the Local Authority to say to parents, ‘look, this is what needs to happen, and if it doesn’t happen, then we will start care proceedings and we’ll look to remove your child from your care.
Sometimes, the pre-proceedings meeting is all that is needed and lots of work can be done again, the reality of the child potentially being removed is enough and the families work together and the child is safeguarded and protected, or the family members can rally round and lots of things can happen at that stage.
However, if that still isn’t enough, or if there’s been an emergency situation which has resulted in an immediate risk of significant harm, perhaps the Police have been involved and they’ve removed the child from the parents, or from the carers, then the Local Authority will issue care proceedings.
What that means is that the Local Authority has evidence that there is at least a reasonable risk of significant harm to a child or to children and the Local Authority has to demonstrate to the Court that there is a reasonable risk of significant harm to the child and that there is evidence of that, and that’s where the 26 weeks comes into being. The law says that when a Local Authority starts care proceedings, it has 26 weeks from the day the Court proceedings starts, the day the application the Local Authority is making is sent to the Court, until the day that a final order is made, whatever that order is, all this has to happen inside 26 weeks. That’s why when you get phone calls or emails from Local Authorities saying ‘we need a statement, we could really do with your records’ and there’s always an urgency to it, there is a genuine need.
Firstly, a Local Authority has to demonstrate that there’s a reasonable risk of significant harm and it does that by gathering evidence, assessing and analysing the evidence it has. The Local Authority gains this evidence from third parties such as nurseries, GPs, health visitors, perhaps probation and other professionals.
However, if a Local Authority considers the risk to be high, in that it can’t allow a child to remain in the care of the parents or the carers, the Local Authority has to demonstrate that there is an imminent risk of significant harm to a child and again, your evidence could be crucial. Your report, statement or the disclosure that a child has made could be crucial to demonstrate to a Judge that there is an imminent risk of significant harm if the child was to remain with their parents or their carers.
Finally, at the end of proceedings, a Local Authority is demonstrating that at the time protective measures were taken, when the child came into their care, that the child became the subject of proceedings, there was a significant risk of harm posed to that child.
This is a very quick tour through a Section 47 enquiry through to Care Proceedings but hopefully it provides a balance of the information needed and gives you a better idea of where you fit into the proceedings and why your evidence is needed. So when a Local Authority asks for it, it’s because it needs the evidence to demonstrate that there is a significant or at least a reasonable risk of significant harm to a child.