October 21, 2022
A Happy & Safe Child: The Importance of Child Protection Law
Bates, Wells & Braithwaite Family Law specialist, Denise Head highlights the importance of child protection law
The media is full of horror stories of child neglect and worse. It would be easy to judge that Social Services are simply not up to the job. The reality is that although those working in social care are under immense pressure and sadly mistakes are made, the majority of instances are more positive, and we are truly fortunate, in this country, to have dedicated services looking after the welfare of children.
However, no child should feel unsafe or unhappy and as a parent or relative, it is important that you are the frontline for ensuring the welfare of the young and speaking out if you have concerns.
In our work with families, we sadly see the effects of dysfunction and the potential threats to the well-being of children. Many separating families will be uncertain as to what options are available to them and how they can be implemented.
Making decisions regarding your children following a separation can be both emotionally charged and difficult. Thankfully, family law terminology has greatly improved and so now we simply talk about “child arrangements” rather than the old “residence”, “contact”, “custody” and “access” orders. It is important that arrangements relating to children are not seen to be “won”, but rather, settled and agreed.
In the majority of cases, separating parents are able to put their children first. Child arrangements that are worked out together with the guidance of specialist advisers stand the best chance of success. However, sometimes further intervention is required to ensure the safety of a child. The parent with whom the child lives may not be able to cope mentally or physically; the other parent may have concerns and feel ignored or helpless.
Children’s Services departments at times receive information that make them suspect a child may be at risk. This information is called a referral. If after receiving a referral, children’s services suspect a child is suffering significant harm, they must investigate this. This is called making child protection enquiries.
Child protection law brings together three different groups: lawyers, social work professionals and of course parents and family members. The most common reasons why a child could be removed from their home and placed outside of family and friends, include abuse, neglect, illness, or abandonment. Under section 47 of the Children Act 1989, where a local authority has reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm, it has a duty to make such enquiries as it considers necessary to decide whether to take any action to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare.
As family lawyers, we act for parents and children in matters such as care proceedings. It would be easy to view all these cases negatively – examples where “child arrangements” have failed and the system incapable of protecting the most vulnerable in society.
However, outcomes can also be positive and uplifting as I was recently reminded by a client, a father who was put in touch with me following a long ten year struggle to try to protect his son, who ended up being subject to child protection. He recently wrote to me to thank me and the family team for helping and representing him in court proceedings. The court agreed, and ordered that, his son should live with him. “He is now an amazing young man” my client wrote of his child and the same adjective can be used for the father who, with some help and guidance from us, did not give up on making sure that his son was happy and safe. This is surely what every child deserves, and every parent should want.