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Our advice service

We provide advice to parents, grandparents, relatives, friends and kinship carers who are involved with children’s services in England or need their help. We can help you understand processes and options when social workers or courts are making decisions about your child’s welfare.

Our advice service is free, independent and confidential.

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By phone or email

To speak to an adviser, please call our free and confidential advice line 0808 801 0366 (Monday to Friday 9.30am to 3pm, excluding Bank Holidays). Or you can ask us a question via email using our advice enquiry form.

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Our online advice forums are an anonymous space where parents and kinship carers (also known as family and friends carers) can get legal and practical advice, build a support network and learn from other people’s experiences.

Advice on our website

Our get help and advice section describes the processes that you and your family are likely to go through, so that you know what to expect. Our webchat service can help you find the information and advice on our website which will help you understand the law and your rights.

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What may happen if children’s services are concerned a child is suffering, or likely to suffer emotional abuse?

If children’s services suspect a child is suffering significant harm or is likely to suffer significant harm, then they must investigate. This is called making 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.

Where enquiries show a child is suffering, or at risk of suffering, significant harm, an initial child protection conference must take place. This is a meeting arranged by children’s services. It decides whether a child should be placed on a child protection plan.

Where the enquiries show a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer significant harm, an initial child protection conference must take place. This is a meeting arranged by children’s services.

The child protection conference decides:

  • Whether a child protection plan needs to be developed to keep the child safe and well
  • The date for any future child protection review conference.

If the conference decides a child protection plan is needed then an outline plan should be put together. This plan should:

  • Identify the things that are likely to cause harm to the child
  • Identify how the child can be protected from those things
  • Ensure the child is kept safe, well cared for and is prevented from suffering further harm
  • Support the parents or carers and their wider family to keep their child safe and well cared for.

See our Child protection page for more information about the child protection process.

If children’s services think a child is unsafe at home due to emotional abuse children’s services may:

  • Ask for a parent or carer, or another person with parental responsibility to agree to the child being cared for elsewhere under a voluntary arrangement. This could be with a relative or by unrelated foster carers for example. See our Children in the care system under voluntary arrangements (section 20) page for further information about voluntary arrangements
  • Ask someone suspected of causing the physical injury to agree to move out of the family home so that the child can remain in the care of another parent or carer in the home
  • Ask the police to take steps to protect the child (police protection) if there is not time for children’s services to go to court for an order to protect the child. Or if the police reach the child first (for example, they are called to an emergency) they may simply exercise these powers
  • Ask the Family Court to make an urgent court order to protect the child, by removing them to the care of a relative. Or to unrelated carers. This could be an emergency protection order for example.

Or children’s services may start care proceedings so they can ask the Family Court to:

  • Consider a plan to keep a 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. Our Care proceedings page also provides more information about police protection.

How children’s services respond will depend on the precise situation. But whatever steps are taken, it will be important for any parent or carer to seek urgent legal advice.

Our guide to Working with a solicitor guide explains how to in find a solicitor.

And it is important to remember that children’s services:

  • Should work in partnership with children and families. See our Children’s services page for information about this and other important principles that should guide how children’s services work
  • Should explore what help and support is available within the wider family and friends’ network. A family group conference can be a good way to do this. A family group conference is a family-led planning meeting. It brings together the whole family, and others who are important to the child. Together, they make a plan for the child. See our Family group conferences: advice for families page for further information
  • 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. See our ‘Quick facts’ about voluntary arrangements below for an easy to follow guide to when voluntary arrangements cannot be put in place or continue.

Voluntary arrangements: Quick facts for parents and other carers

  1. A child cannot be looked after in the care system under a voluntary arrangement if:
  • Someone with parental responsibility for the child objects and
  • That person can provide the child with a place to live themselves, or
  • They can arrange a place for the child to stay.
  1. The exception to this is if:
  • Someone who has a child arrangements order or special guardianship order for the child thinks the child should be (or continue to be) in a voluntary arrangement, or
  • The child is 16 or 17 and able to agree to remaining in the voluntary arrangement themselves.
  1. Children’s services do not have parental responsibility for any child who looked after in a voluntary arrangement.
  2. A child can be removed from a voluntary arrangement at any time by a parent who has parental responsibility.  But the same exception in point 2. applies too
  • If a parent (or carer) with parental responsibility is in a position to remove their child, no notice is required. No restrictions should put on the parent in relation to their right to remove their child.
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