When anyone tells Social Services this, the local authority must decide, within one working day, whether or not they need to check up on you. If the answer is yes, a Social Worker is told to make an initial assessment. This assessment must occur within ten working days of the initial referral.

This might happen casually, with a Social Worker “popping in for a chat” or it might be by appointment in your home.

But no matter how “casual” this assessment, from that point, you are involved in a Child Protection Investigation. This meeting is written up on a record that goes permanently on file about you and your children.

The result of this meeting with you can be “No action taken” but you are unlikely to get an apology or thanks; and you need to check that the file that stays with Social Services is accurate as it can affect your child’s future.

Matters can go further and Social Services decide to hold an ominously-entitled Section 47 Enquiry (named for section 47 of the Children Act 1989), carrying out a core assessment.

If the core assessment deems that the child is at continued risk from significant harm, a child protection conference will be convened.

Depending upon the findings of the child protection conference, it may be decided that care proceedings are necessary to keep the child safe. “Care proceedings” is the term used to describe the legal process by which Social Services ask the court whether or not a young person should go into care.

Here it is decided whether or not the child should be made subject to a Child Protection Plan.

Care proceedings are usually held in the Family Proceedings Court.

This court is also responsible for awarding emergency protection orders whereby a child may be removed from his or her home for up to eight days.

The court may issue a care order giving local authority parental responsibility for a child – either fully or in part, shared with the parents – and the care plan for the child will be implemented. Depending on the circumstances, the child may continue to live at home, be placed in the care of other members of the family, foster care or a children’s home.

In that the core governmental guidance on how agencies should co-operate in child protection, Working Together to Safeguard Children: A Guide to Inter-Agency Working to Safeguard and Promote the Welfare of Children (DCSF, 2010), emphasises “the importance of keeping the focus on the child and his or safety and welfare, understanding the daily life experience of the child…and using information about the family’s history and functioning to inform decision making,” where does it all go wrong? Where does the system break down?

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