What to do if Social Services have concerns about your parenting
I am a Solicitor who has specialised in Child Law since qualification in 1992. I was admitted to the Law Society Children Panel in 1996. My practice has one of the most experienced teams of child law specialist solicitors in the South West.
Over the years I have represented many parents and grandparents in Court Proceedings brought by Social Services. The Court now expects most cases to be finished in 26 weeks or less. This means that the window of time for parents and grandparents to make the right choices so that they will succeed is very small. Good decisions need to be made at the very start of a case.
No Solicitor who represents parents and grandparents in Social Services cases can claim that they have succeeded in keeping children with their parents/grandparents in every case. Sometimes the problems are simply too great to overcome in the timescale of the court process. Sometimes clients are unable to follow our advice or panic and switch off.
We always try hard to make sure that our clients give themselves the best chance of achieving the best realistic outcome and that their case is clearly heard by the Court. Over the years we have helped clients to achieve some excellent outcomes.
Avoiding Court Proceedings
Being taken to Court always involves the risk of a bad outcome. This is because decisions are made by someone else. The best way to succeed is always to avoid ending up in Court in the first place.
There is no substitute to seeking specific advice from an experienced Solicitor. The following is a good place to start:
- Don’t panic. The main job of Social services isn’t to remove children and place them for adoption. The main job of Social Services is to make sure that children are safe and that the standard of care which they receive is good enough (you won’t have to be perfect). Most cases do not end up in Court.
- Understand where you have been going wrong. Nobody is perfect. Listen. Ask what changes you need to make to improve your care and what support is available to help you do this. Take up that help.
- Work with Social Services. If you tell them to go away, they won’t and you will end up in Court and there is then the risk that your children really will be removed.
- Be Honest. This might sometimes seem like a bad idea. Surely it’s better to pretend things were not as bad as they were? No. If you are open; show you understand where things have gone wrong, you are well on the way to putting things right. If you lie, chances are you will be found out. You will then be someone who cannot be trusted, and potentially in serious trouble. Often the lie is worse than what is being lied about.
- Its about trust. The ultimate question is can the Court/Social Services trust you to look after your children safely? Trust comes from being honest, being reliable, doing what you are expected to do.
- Build bridges with family. If you do end up at risk of your children being removed, then Social Services have to investigate if they can be safely looked after by another family member (either short term or long term). It’s generally better to be build bridges/include family members in discussions about how to solve problems.
- Remember, it’s not about you; it’s about your children. The main job of Social Services is to make sure that children are safe and that the standard of care which they receive is good enough. If you can show that you understand the problem and can sort it out, and you can care for and protect your children, Social Services will be on your side.
- Don’t be horrible or rude to Social Services. They are doing their job. They are people too. They are motivated to protect children. All you are doing is making things harder for yourself.
- Get Legal Advice; Problems often develop slowly and it can be easy to lose perspective. A Solicitor will be able to give you an honest view. The Solicitor has a duty of confidentiality to you. They will keep what you tell them private. Legal Aid is still available when Social Services become involved. Get advice as soon as possible. If Social Services are getting things wrong, it is better that criticism’s are made by the Solicitor, not the parent/grandparent.
- Get Legal Advice from a Solicitor who is a member the Law Society Child Law Accreditation Scheme; also known as the Law Society Children Panel. They are the experts on the law for cases involving Social Services.
Conflict Resolution by negotiation
I am also a very experienced mediator (family/civil/workplace mediation) . This experience gives me another perspective on resolving disputes.
Engaging with social services involves negotiation: What do they want? What do you want?
Successful negotiation means that you need to understand what the other party wants. What do they need to happen before they close their case? what can they do to help you to help them to achieve that?
Being able to put yourself in the shoes of the other party and think about what they want and why is a big part of you being able to work together.
Reliability, Honesty and Delivery normally win
Success also requires delivery – if you promise to do something, then do it.
If you overpromise, then admit it quickly and seek more and better help. Small failures are better than big failures!
Not being honest is the biggest problem to overcome- they need to trust you.
Its not a battle – its a joint problem
Negotiations fail when one or both view things as a battle. Success is easier when you can resolve a joint problem together.
Our team includes myself and Solicitors; Kim Stradling, Sandy Powell and David Howell-Richardson. Together we have more than 100 years of child law expertise.
We have offices in Exeter, Taunton and Honiton. We assist clients who live in Devon and Somerset with cases locally or across the country. (Recent cases include in Swansea and Sheffield) as well as parents and other family members who have cases in the Courts in Devon and Somerset.
Free Legal Aid
Free Legal Aid is still available for parents and others with parental responsibility for cases brought by Social Services and for pre proceedings meetings (PLO or Public Law Outline meetings). Means tested legal aid is more widely available.
The starting point for us working together is for you give us a call on 01404 819098 and to arrange a meeting