A concern has been made about my child to the social work department – what might I expect?
Concerns relating to a child or young person can come from a number of sources, such as members of the public, social work services, school teachers or healthcare professionals. Where a child protection issue is raised, the family may be contacted by a social worker to discuss the concerns and to discuss any supports that the child, young person or family may need.
Getting It Right For Every Child (“GIRFEC”) is a national approach in Scotland that aims to improve outcomes and support the wellbeing of children and young persons in Scotland. It does this by identifying the right support and services for them and their families at the right time throughout their childhoods. It is designed to be interventionist, in that it looks to identify an issue and mitigate the issue with support and guidance at an early stage. GIRFEC is child-focussed and has the wellbeing of the child or young person at its heart. It is an approach that is followed by Local Authorities throughout Scotland.
A number of the principles underpinning GIRFEC have been formally incorporated into Scots Law through the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014.
The Local Authority have a number of options open to them when dealing with a child protection concern. Some examples may include:
- Informal support and guidance via a Child’s Plan
A child’s plan is developed with input from the child, the family and the social work department in conjunction with relevant partners. It should be transparent and address: what the child’s needs are; the child’s views and those of their parents’; what action will be taken; who will provide the support; how the support will be provided; and how frequently the plan will be reviewed.
- Child Protection Registration
Where a child has been deemed to be at significant risk of harm, their name may be recorded on the Child Protection Register. This places an onus on the Local Authority to make a Child Plan and allows for announced and unannounced visits to take place at the child’s home to ensure their safety.
- Voluntary accommodation – “Section 25 Agreement”
There may be occasions where it is considered that a child needs to be removed from the family home on a temporary basis in order to fully assess the extent of the support that the child or the family needs. Section 25 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 makes provision for the Local Authority to provide suitable alternative accommodation for a child in certain circumstances. Parental consent is needed to allow the local authority to remove a child from their care. Consent can be withdrawn at any time. A child must be returned to the care of their parent or guardian save for limited circumstances. If parental consent is not provided and the Local Authority’s concerns are that a child is, or is likely to be, placed at significant harm if they are returned to the family home, an application may be, made to the court to obtain a Child Protection Order.
- Referral to the Children’s Reporter
Where concerns have been raised about a child, but those concerns are not sufficient to warrant emergency legal proceedings, then a referral may be made to the Children’s Reporter which sets out the basis of the perceived risks and asks the Reporter to consider whether a Children’s Panel should be convened in relation to the child.
The level of risk, and the engagement by the family with the care plan, are relevant factors in how a Local Authority may proceed. The impact of the local authority decisions on the family unit may be significant.
It is important that clients have access to sound legal advice at the earliest opportunity, whether having social work involvement for the first time or if this is a new development in an ongoing process.
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