Fathers and the child protection process
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Children’s services departments sometimes receive information that makes them suspect a child may not be safe or well cared for. 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.
What is the aim of child protection enquiries?
When children’s services make child protection enquiries they aim to:
- Gather information about the child and their family
- Assess the family’s situation
- Decide whether they think the child is suffering significant harm
- Decide whether they think the child is likely to suffer significant harm
- Decide whether they should take any action to keep the child safe and promote their welfare.
Our Child protection page has more information and advice. But the FAQs below provide some information fathers may particularly be looking for.
Can children’s services make a father leave the family home during the child protection process? Can they decide his child cannot see him?
Sometimes during a child protection process, children’s services will ask for one parent to agree to leave the family. This could be whilst child protection enquiries are ongoing. Or early on in an assessment process. Or it might be a request made as part of a child protection plan to keep a child safe.
During the child protection process children’s services cannot force a parent leave the family home. And they cannot prevent a child seeing their father.
BUT they can:
- Make recommendations and requests
- Ask parents to enter into formal agreements with children’s services to do these things.
If a father is asked to leave the family home or it is recommended that he does not see his child, what should be do?
If a father is asked to leave the home, it is important children’s services explain clearly why this is being asked. If they are recommending a child does not see their father, they should explain the reasons for this. If children’s services are saying the child’s time with their father is supervised, again they should explain why they are recommending this.
A father in this situation can contact children’s services and ask them to put into writing:
- What their concerns are
- How moving out with help to address the concerns
- When, and under what conditions, they say the father should be able to return home
- When and where he can see the child while living away
- How he will be involved in the child protection enquiries and assessment
- Details of any child protection conference, or review conference
- How he will be able to take part in the child protection conference, reviews, and core group meetings
- If they have advice or any help they can offer him with arranging somewhere else to stary
- What will happen if he does not agree to move out. Or if he returns home without this being agreed
- What will happen is he doesn’t agree to the plans for seeing his child (the ‘contact arrangements’).
It is a good idea to request this information in writing. This can be done even if these questions have already been asked in a meeting or during a telephone call with a social worker.
Asking for a response in writing is also important. It:
- Helps to make sure there is a clear record of what has been said
- Can make it easier for a father to think through his options
- Is useful to have when a father seeks legal advice.
It is a good idea to work with children’s services. This could mean moving out for period while child protection enquiries are made.
What will happen if a father does not agree to leave the family home, but children’s services are still worried a child is unsafe at home?
If children’s services are worried a child may not be safe at home they may decide they need to begin a pre-proceedings process. This is a period of time and process where children’s services think about whether they need to apply to start care proceedings to keep a child safe. The parents or carers will have the chance to show whether they are able to care safely for their child. See our Pre-proceedings page for more information and advice.
Or children’s services may start care proceedings so they can ask the Family Court to:
- Consider a plan to keep the child safe and well cared for immediately (and, if necessary, any other children in the home). This could include a plan to remove the child
- Make any court orders needed to help put that initial plan in place
- Decide who the child should spend time with or be in touch with during the proceedings. This includes who they should see, how often and other such arrangements. This is often called contact arrangements
- Make final decisions, at the end of the proceedings, about who the child should live, see or be in contact with
- Decide what further information is needed to help the court make final decisions about the child’s future care.
See our Care proceedings page for more information about urgent court orders that children’s services can seek, including emergency protection orders and interim care orders.
It is very important that a father in either of these situations urgently finds a solicitor. To do this, search using the ‘how to find a solicitor’ function on the Law Society website. Look for someone who is a children law specialist. Or who has Children Law Accreditation. For information about finding a solicitor and working with them, please see our top tips guide ‘Working with a solicitor’.
Fathers may want to then:
- Post a question on our Parents Forum to receive advice from one our expert advisers, or for further advice or complex situations you may want to
- Contact us – call Family Rights Group’s specialist legal and practice advice line on 0808 801 0366 (the advice line is open Monday to Friday, from 9.30 am to 3 pm (excluding bank holidays).
Can children’s services remove a child during the child protection process?
Children’s services cannot themselves remove a child from their parent or carer unless either:
- The Family Court has granted an order, approving a plan for the removal of the child or
- Someone with parental responsibility for the child has agreed for them to be looked after in the care system under a voluntary arrangement and there is no valid objection this.
Voluntary arrangements: Quick facts for parents and other carers
When a child is looked after in the care system under a voluntary arrangement a parent (or other carer) who has parent responsibility for the child is:
- ‘Simply delegating’ their parental responsibility ‘for the time being’ to children’s services
- This just means that the parent or carer is not using (‘exercising’) their parental responsibility to provide or arrange somewhere for their child to live
- Instead, they are passing that role to children’s services
- That does not mean children’s services have parental responsibility for the child
- Children’s services do not gain parental responsibility when a child is looked after under a voluntary arrangement
- The parent’s (or carer’s) decision to do agree a voluntary arrangement must be ‘real and voluntary’
- They should have accurate information from children’s services about the arrangement and their rights
- If the parent’s decision is not real and voluntary, then the arrangement may not be lawful
- It may be possible for someone else with parental responsibility to object to a voluntary arrangement. But
- Not everyone is entitled to object. The law explains who is able to and in what situation.
For more information and important advice about voluntary arrangements, including who can object to a voluntary arrangement see our Children in the care system under voluntary arrangements (section 20) page
Can a father have help from an advocate or supporter in meetings with children’s services during a child protection process?
Government statutory guidance says the child’s social worker should share information about advocacy agencies with families. This should happen where enquiries being made indicate a child is suffering significant harm. Or that they are likely to.
The guidance also says the social worker should explain that parents or carers may bring an advocate (who may be a solicitor) or supporter to a child protection conference (see Working Together 2018 at page 48).
Fathers who want to bring an advocate to the child protection conference might want to visit out Top tips & templates page to:
Why might a father want an advocate or supporter?
At times, fathers may find it hard to participate in meetings organised by their child’s social worker and others. A father who feels like this may find it easier if supported by an advocate. Or helped by a supporter.
An advocate is usually someone independent who can help a parent have their voice heard when plans or decisions are being made about their child. A supporter could be a friend of the family who is not directly involved in the current situation. That person can come to meetings and help them say what they would like to say.
An advocate (or supporter) can help a father to:
- Prepare for meetings with social workers
- Ask the social worker questions
- Speak up and help get their point of view across
- Reach agreements/negotiate with social workers
- Challenge social workers or others (in a constructive way) if mistakes have been made or what they are saying is not agreed with
- Remember what was said and agreed at a meeting and help plan what to do next.
Is it possible for a father’s wider family and friends to be involved in the child protection process?
As part of their assessment, children’s services should consider what the wider family can offer to help meet the child’s needs (Working Together 2018, paragraph 52). This includes the paternal family even if the father does not have parental responsibility.
If the father wants his relatives to be more involved he can:
- Tell the social worker that he has family who can support him in caring for his child
- Tell the social worker if he has family who may be able to care for his child if he or the mother cannot
- Ask his family members to contact the social worker or give him permission to pass on their contact details
- Ask the social worker to make a referral for a family group conference.
A family group conference is a family-led decision-making meeting. It brings together the whole family, and others who are important to the child. Together, at the family group conference, they make a plan for the child. A father doesn’t have to wait for children’s services to suggest this. They can ask for a family group conference to take place. See our Family group conference: advice for families page for more information.