Frequently asked questions for fathers
Fathers and Child Protection
My daughter is subject to child protection enquiries. I don't have parental responsibility for her.
The local authority is under a duty to safeguard and protect the welfare of children in their area. Where they suspect that a child may be suffering from significant harm they must make enquiries and where necessary take action to make sure the child is kept safe. This might include a child protection conference, or if there is a considerable risk to the child, the local authority applying to court for a care order giving them permission to remove the child from their home.
a) Should I be consulted by the local authority, invited to the child protection conference and other meetings and given copies of all reports?
The expectation is that the local authority will work in partnership with both parents, regardless of whether or not you have parental responsibility, and that both parents will be invited to the child protection conference and core group planning meetings. You should therefore be invited to all or part of these meetings unless the local authority believe to do so would place another person at risk or make your child feel too uncomfortable to speak.
The procedure the local authority must follow are set out in Government guidance (Working Together to Safeguard Children (DfE, 2006). The Guidance says the local authority must carry out a full assessment of your daughter's need, the ability of her parents/carers and wider family to meet her needs, and what support, if any, they require from the local authority to do this.
If you are not the main carer for your child and she is living with her mother, then it is likely the local authority will initially work closely with your child's mother in carrying out this assessment. However, as the father or even as a significant father figure in the child's life, you should be involved in the assessment and planing process too and should be kept informed of what is happening.
Read here for further information on Child Protection.
b) What happens if the local authority refuses to include me?
If the local authority is refusing to include you in the assessment and the child protection planning process, we suggest you write to them, setting out your relationship and involvement with your daughter and:
- how you would like them to involve you in the assessment and planning process;
- what you can offer in terms of care and support to meet your daughter's needs.
If there is a child protection conference and you have not been invited to it, ask for your letter to be given to every person at the meeting and be read out.
Keep a copy of the letter.
If the local authority still refuses to involve you then ask them for a written explanation for their reasons. You may wish to contact Family Rights Group's advice service to discuss your particular circumstances, and if appropriate, make a complaint.
My daughter is subject to a child protection investigation, and I have been told to leave the family home. Should I do this?
It is a good idea to be co-operative and agree to move out of the home for a specified period while the local authority makes its enquiries. If you don't move out they may apply to court for an order to remove your child from home instead.
For the local authority to have asked you to move out it is likely that they have considerable concerns about the safety and well-being of your daughter (and possibly other children) at your home. Even if you don't agree with their views it is important to work with them to understand and address these concerns.
You can ask the local authority to confirm to you in writing:
- what they are concerned about and how you moving out will help to address this;
- whether they can help you with the cost of accommodation in the interim - they can in law pay your accommodation costs but they don't have to;
- when and in what circumstances you will be able to return and what contact arrangements or other restrictions they are placing on you seeing your family; and
- how you will be involved in the enquiries, including whether you will be invited to the child protection conference and if not, how you can contribute to it.
Keep a copy of the letter.
If you have this information clarified in writing it will be easier for you to consider the options open to you in the future and take advice.
My son is subject to a child protection plan. The local authority has asked me and my wife to agree that I should have no further contact with my family. None of us want this. What should we do?
You should ask the local authority to confirm to you in writing:
- why they want to end contact with your wife and family; and
- if there is anything you can do to change this.
It is very important that you work with the local authority in understanding and overcoming their concerns about your child's safety and welfare. However, this does not mean that you will always agree with their view of the situation.
Once you have the local authority's reasons for asking you to end contact, you should take advice from Family Rights Group's advice service, or a solicitor specialising in child care law about the options open to you.
It is likely that the local authority trust your wife to keep the children safe and have told her that if she allows them contact with you without their agreement, they will apply to court to get permission to remove the children. Your wife will need to follow what is asked of her by the social worker if she wants to retain care of the children, so you and she need to take separate legal advice at this point.
I was arrested and a child protection conference investigation was started. The police have now said they are satisfied no crime was committed. But the local authority remains involved with my son. What are my rights as a father?
It can be confusing when the police decide they do not wish to pursue the matter but the local authority still remain involved and say what you can and cannot do in terms of living with or seeing your family. This happens because:
- the police will only prosecute a case in the criminal courts if they consider they have sufficient evidence to prove an allegation 'beyond all reasonable doubt' (i.e. the criminal burden of proof), and if they consider it in the public interest to do so; whereas
- the local authority is under a duty to protect children and need only prove an allegation on the balance of probabilities (i.e. civil burden of proof) to be able to plan for a child's future safety and well-being.
It is very important that you to continue to work with the local authority to understand, address and ovecome their concerns about your child's safety.
Read here for more information on child protection.
I am concerned about my children's stepfather and his treatment of my children. What can I do?
It is advisable that you first discuss your concerns with your children's mother. It is important that you focus on the children and that you don't let old hostilities or feelings between the adults get in the way. You may find it easier to discuss these things in mediation. For further details about how to find a mediator read here.
If you can't find solutions with your ex-wife to these problems, you can write to the local authortiy setting out your concerns and what you think needs to be happen to address them. Keep a copy of the letter.
The local authority should reply to you telling you what they plan to do in response to what you have said and why. If they plan to assess your children's needs and/or make enquiries about their safety you be involved in the process, as stated under question 1 above and be asked how you can help to look after them.
If the local authority does not take any action in response to your letter, you should continue to keep a record of you concerns and contact the local authority again, if necessary.
You may also want to consider making a complaint to the local authority about its failure to act. However, do take care how you come across, so it's clear that you have a genuine worry rather than it appearing that you have a grudge against your ex. You may also want to take further advice about the options open to you by contacting Family Rights Group's advice service.
I am so concerned about the way my children are cared for by their mother and her partner, that I think I should just take them to live with me. What should I do?
If you believe it is in your children's interest to live with you, at least part of the time, it is essential you think through how you are going to manage this, including contact with their mother.
You would normally need to discuss this with your children's mother to see if she will agree to this plan (you may find family mediation helpful to reach such an agreement). However, if your son is on a care order, you need to discuss this with the social worker, as the local authority would need to agree to the arrangement.
If agreement cannot be reached, you can apply to court for a Residence Order under s.8 Children Act 1989. You can contact Family Rights Group's Advice Service for initial information on how to apply for a Residence Order.
My son is subject to child protection enquiries and my parents and my sister want to be involved in making plans for my son. Is that possible?
Yes, if the local authority is involved in providing services or making decisions about your children's care, they should be considering what your son's wider family can offer as part of any assessment of his needs and plans for him. If your relatives want to be involved it is a good idea for them to contact the social worker to express their views about what they think would be best for your son. They should let the social worker know how they may be able to help in providing support or care. This applies regardless of whether you have parental responsibility for your son.
Family Group Conferences
Your relatives could also ask the social worker to arrange a meeting for the whole family, known as Family Group Conferences to consider what plans would be best for yourchild in the circumstances.
A Family Group Conference (FGC) is a decision-making process in which the whole family gets together to take decisions and make a plan for a child at risk. It offers parents and relatives, including your family and close friends the opportunity to come up with the a way forward that addresses your child's needs. The professionals' role is to spell out the local authority's concerns and what support they can provide. Professionals are not involved in 'private time', which is the part of the meeting when family (including the child, if old enough) and close friends draw up the plan. The local authority shoudl agree and support the plan, as long as it is safe.
Read more for further information about family group conferences.
Applying to court for a residence order or special guardianship order
If, as a result of concerns about your son's care, and perhaps as a result of a plan you have all made at a family group conference, any of your relatives think they would like to care for him themselves, they can apply to court for a residence order or special guardianship order to secure this arrangement legally but they would probably need the court's permission to be able to do this.
Read here for further information about how to apply for a residence and special guardianship order.