The news that social workers in Rotherham took three ethnic minority children from their foster parents’ care because they were members of the UK Independence Party, has raised important issues around the care of children and the power of local councils.
Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, condemned the council’s decision as ‘indefensible’; however, Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council has so far failed to apologise to the couple and refused to release the findings of an internal report into the case.
The couple, who are in their fifties and have been described as ‘exemplary’ foster parents, have questioned the council’s claim that the children’s removal was in their best interests. The couple were given just 20 minutes notice.
The case is likely to strike a chord with not just foster parents but with all parents as it is every parent’s worst nightmare that social services may need to get involved with their childcare. And local authorities do have a valuable role to fulfill in terms of protecting children’s wellbeing. So what are the social services and local authorities trying to achieve if they get in touch and what kind of conduct or incident would warrant local authority intervention in your family?
Many referrals come from outside agencies such as school, a hospital reporting a violent incident in the family home or a child where a child has an injury and doctors consider it to be non-accidental or the parents’ explanation does not fit the injury. Referrals can even be by neighbours if they have concerns, for example, around late night parties and alcohol and drug use in the home.
All referrals, anonymous or otherwise must be acted upon by the local authority. The local authority’s duty is to ensure that children in their area are safe. If a child is deemed by the social worker to be at risk of harm they may ask the parent to agree to work with the local authority under a child protection plan or to agree to a voluntary placement with an alternative family member or, if appropriate, a local authority foster carer.
At this stage is it extremely important that parents appoint a solicitor to guide them even though the children can only be removed long term by the court if they are at risk of significant harm. We can guide you through exactly what that actually means and how courts interpret this. In many cases children do return home where parents have made necessary changes.
Should you ever find yourself involved with the local authority regarding your children’s wellbeing, it is vital that you find a qualified solicitor who is experienced in family law immediately.
Our experienced, expert and approachable family team offers a free initial consultation then legal funding can often be accessed to help advise you further. Call us on 0800 0274 274 for more information on any of the issues this blog covers.