Involvement with Social Services can be a stressful experience for families, but the local authority has a legal duty to ensure the welfare of any child in its area and make sure they are not being subjected to physical, sexual or emotional abuse, are not being neglected or made to work illegally – and are not being prevented from receiving an education.
The local authority also has a duty to accommodate children who may be homeless, at risk in their homes – or who have been abandoned.
Local authorities use guidance on child protection set out in the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families, which advises on which section of the Children Act 1989 can be used to take action to protect a child.
Some of the sections the Children Act commonly used by local authorities in child protection and which parents may encounter are:
Section 17 – Provision of services for children
Section 20 – Accommodation for children
Section 31 – Care orders
Section 38 – Emergency protection order
Section 43 – Child assessment order
Section 44 – Interim care order
Section 46 – Police protection order.
In situations where there are reasonable concerns over the welfare of a child who might be at risk of abuse or is being neglected, the local authority child protection team has a legal duty to investigate under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989.
Social workers will gather evidence from child care specialists – including GPs, teachers or housing officers – to examine the case. Any experts asked to contribute to the Section 47 enquiry have a legal duty to cooperate.
In some circumstances, a Section 47 enquiry has to be launched by the local authority if:
If the Section 47 enquiry further establishes that a child may be at risk, parents, guardians or carers of the child will be sent a Pre-proceedings Letter setting out the issues – and will be invited to attend a Pre-proceedings Meeting. Children who are old enough to understand what is happening may also attend.
Parents do not have a legal duty to attend the Pre-proceedings Meeting, but are advised to do so – and are legally entitled to be represented by a solicitor at the meeting, who can speak for them and present their case to Social Services.
The Pre-proceedings Meeting does not mean children will be taken away – local authorities must apply for a Care Order before they can take children into care and parents are advised to attend the meeting with their solicitor if possible.
Because local authority duties can cover many different pieces of legislation according to the circumstances of a child welfare case, it is important that parents seek legal advice from a specialist Social Services solicitor who can guide them through the local authority’s legal duties – and their own legal duties as parents, guardians and carers.
Parents attending a Pre-proceedings Meeting will have the chance to present their case through their solicitor – and may also have the chance to agree to take steps to prevent their child being taken into local authority care by signing an Agreement which will be reviewed within a time period set by Social Services.
Duncan Lewis Social Services solicitors can also advise parents on a wide range of issues relating to local authority child protection – including Section 17 provisions for children in need to help you get the support your family is entitled to; and issues involving the employment of children below the age of 16 under the Children and Young Persons Act 1933.
Duncan Lewis is ranked by the Legal 500 2014 for its Family & Matrimonial work – and the Duncan Lewis team includes Advanced Members of the Law Society’s Family Panel, and members of the Law Society Children Panel – so our team is well placed to help you with legal advice on your local authority duties.
Duncan Lewis is also one of the UK’s largest providers of Legal Aid family law services – including child care law – and in some cases may be able to offer Legal Aid funding for child care cases, including help with the costs of applying for court orders if a client is on benefits or has a low income.
In child care cases where clients are not eligible for public funding, Duncan Lewis children lawyers offer a fixed fee for an initial client interview and assessment of a private child matter.
After a case has been assessed, it is usually possible for a fixed fee arrangement to be put in place – and Duncan Lewis will always advise clients of the costs in advance.
Duncan Lewis always advise clients who are seeking help with child care matters – or who need legal advice on local authority duties – to get in touch as soon as possible before the situation escalates.
Once you have contacted Duncan Lewis, we can act swiftly in any child care matter and put in place measures to help resolve the issues.
For expert legal advice on all child care matters – including your local authority duties – contact Duncan Lewis Social Services Solicitors on 020 7923 4020.