How to contact us for advice

Find out more

Telephone Handler
Close form

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.

Telephone Handler

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). For Textphone dial 18001 followed by the advice line number. Or you can ask us a question via email using our advice enquiry form.

Discuss on our forums

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.

Family Rights Group
Cover Your Tracks
Generic filters
Exact matches only

Resources for practitioners who work in domestic abuse organisations.

This is a series of frequently asked questions designed for practitioners who work with mothers involved with the child welfare system. It assumes that you will already be very knowledgeable about domestic abuse. However, you may be less familiar with the child protection system and how best to advocate for mothers in this situation.

FAQs on getting advice and support early

Is there help that a mother affected by domestic abuse can access before children’s services get involved?

Yes, there can be, it depends on the child’s needs and the situation. It is a good idea for the mother to seek help (or be supported to do so) as soon as she fears or experiences domestic abuse. This may help her to keep herself and her child safe. It may also prevent the situation escalating to the extent that children’s services become involved.

If she is in contact with your specialist domestic abuse service, you can provide her with a range of advice, information and support. This will help her to understand what her options are and how to protect herself and her child.

Early help services

The mother can also ask a professional working with her family, such as a GP, health visitor or teacher to co-ordinate an early help assessment. The assessment should identify what support her family needs and a plan of support should be put in place. A lead professional should be responsible for coordinating this. She does not have to have an early help assessment or accept the services offered. However, it might be a good idea if the help is needed. To find out more about early help services please see FRG advice sheet on family support.

For further information about getting support read here.

FAQs on why and how children’s services may become involved with a family because of domestic abuse

Why may children’s services become involved when a mother has experienced domestic abuse?

Children’s services are responsible for supporting children who have specific needs, protecting children who are at risk of harm and providing care for children who cannot live with their families or friends. The damage caused by domestic abuse is included in the legal definition of harm to a child.

Research evidence indicates that children of any age (including unborn babies) can be affected by domestic abuse in different ways. Children’s services may be concerned that the domestic abuse could result in the children being physically hurt and/or emotionally harmed.

Safeguarding children is everyone’s responsibility. It can be helpful when supporting a mother to reflect on why the social worker may be worried about the child. This could be for many reasons. You may be able to help her think through these concerns. She and the professionals will share the same aim – to keep her child safe. This is more likely to happen if they work together.

Social workers also need to think about how protecting the mother helps protect the children. They also need to address the abuser’s violence. This is explored in more detail in FAQs section for social workers.

Your role as a domestic abuse practitioner can be invaluable. You can support the mother to make safe and informed choices. You can also help professionals involved with the family to understand the complex issues involved and the different challenges women often face when affected by domestic abuse.

I am working with a mother whose child is being assessed by a social worker. How can I help explain the different assessment procedures?

It might be helpful to have an overview of the range of processes involved.

Children’s services must follow certain procedures when they work with children and their families. They must decide within one working day of receiving information about a child whether or not to do an assessment and, if so, what type of assessment they should do.

You could support the mother to ask the social worker why they are doing an assessment. Is it because they think the child needs support (they may be a child in need)? Or is it because they are concerned that the child may be at risk of significant harm (in which case they will make child protection enquiries).

Assessments should usually be completed within 45 working days.

You can ask the social worker for a copy of:

  • the local procedures which they are following in deciding whether the child’s needs should be assessed and if they should be offered services. This is known as the threshold document
  • the local procedure as to how the assessment will be managed. This may be known as the local protocols for assessment.

They must also follow government guidance in Working Together to Safeguard Children 2020.

The mother should be fully involved in all assessments as described above. She should also receive a written copy of the assessment. Both the mother and her child should be considered as individuals and their family structure, culture, religion, and ethnic origin should be respected.

FAQs on child in need

How do I best support a mother and her child when there is a child in need assessment?

Children’s services should carry out an assessment if it appears that a child is in need. However, the child and mother do not usually have a right to a particular service once the assessment is finished. Any service offered will be based on the child’s assessed needs and whether the particular service is agreed at a funding panel. There are some exceptions to this. Families do have a right to support in some circumstances e.g. in relation to direct payments for eligible disabled children and children with an education, health and care plan (EHC).

For more information see FRG’s advice sheet on Family Support.

If the social worker assesses that the child needs extra support and social work help then a child in need plan should be drawn up. This should be done in partnership with the family. The plan should set out what help will be offered.

Children’s services can provide help to the mother and other family members as well as to her child under the child in need plan as long as it is to help the child’s safety or well-being. This means that mother can be given extra help to parent her child, if that is needed.

If the mother is unhappy with the assessment or with the support offered – or lack of it -you could offer to help her tell the social worker and/or their manager what she disagrees with and why. Or you could assist her to make a formal complaint.

Our FAQs for parents on extra help/family support cover a number of issues about assessments.

FAQs on child protection processes and domestic abuse

The social worker has told a mother who I am working with that she is doing a child protection investigation. What does this involve?

Child protection enquiries

If an assessment finds that the child may be at risk of significant harm then children’s services have a legal duty to look further into the child’s situation. This is also known as a section 47 enquiry or investigation because this duty is set out in section 47 of the Children Act 1989.

Social workers and other professionals will hold a strategy discussion if children’s services have information which suggests that the child is suffering (or likely to suffer) harm. They will share information and decide whether/how to undertake child protection enquiries. The mother will not be invited to a strategy meeting. However, the social worker should inform her as soon as possible afterwards about what is likely to happen.

The mother should be as involved as possible when social workers are making child protection enquiries. This includes during assessments and at any decision/review points.

All relevant information should be shared with her except where this would place her child at risk. Any decision not to share information should be agreed at a strategy discussion.

The mother’s permission should be usually sought before a social worker speaks to her child and before information is shared between professionals. However, the social worker can speak to the child without the mother’s permission in the following circumstances. Firstly, if asking permission would put the child at further risk of harm. The other circumstance is if speaking to the child is necessary to protect or ensure their safety or wellbeing.

A child protection conference is scheduled due to concerns that domestic abuse is affecting the child. What decisions can the conference make?

Child protection conference

If, after making child protection enquiries, the social worker remains concerned about the child’s safety and development, then a child protection conference will be held. The purpose is to decide if the child is at risk of harm. The mother should be invited to the conference. In cases of domestic abuse, the mother can ask for a “split meeting” to be arranged, if she feels the fathers’ attendance would put her or her child at risk. A split conference enables both parents to be involved in the child protection conference, but not at the same time.

Child protection plan

The conference decides whether or not the child is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm. If they decide the child is then they will draw up an outline child protection plan to keep the child safe. The lead social worker is responsible for developing the outline plan into a full inter-agency plan. They should then circulate this to the mother and relevant family members and professionals.

If the conference decides that the child is not suffering or likely to suffer significant harm, then a child in need plan could be made if the conference agrees it is needed.

Can a mother I am working with be involved in decisions about her child if a child protection plan is made?

Yes, definitely. It is very important the mother is involved (and is supported to be so) in informing the child protection plan and in reviewing whether it is working. The plan should be focused on the needs of the child and mother and addressing the perpetrator’s behaviour. Advocacy might help the mother to take part. Please see the FAQ on how to advocate for a mother in a child protection meeting. Also look at FRG advice sheet on advocacy for families when social workers make plans for their children.

The mother should receive a written copy of the full child protection plan. She can ask for it to be in her first language.

Core group

When a child protection plan is in place a core group of professionals will regularly meet with the mother. At these meetings they will share information about how the plan is working and to develop it further. The father may also be invited to meetings to discuss plans for his child. In order to protect herself and/or the child, the mother can ask for a “split meeting” to be arranged or for the father to be involved or consulted separately.

Child protection reviews

The first child protection review conference is held three months after the initial child protection conference. The child protection plan will be reviewed at this meeting. After that, review conferences are held every six months. The mother should usually be invited to attend the review conferences. Again, she can ask that this arranged as a “split meeting” if this is necessary to ensure that she or the child is not put at risk.

The review conference will decide if the child continues to suffer or be likely to suffer significant harm. If they decide the child continues to suffer or be likely to suffer significant harm then the child protection plan will remain in place and will be updated.

If the conference decides that a child is no longer at risk of harm but needs support then a child in need plan will be made. This will set out what family support services will be offered.

For more detailed advice please see FRG’s advice sheet on child protection procedures.

A mother would like me to be her advocate at a child protection meeting. However, the social worker does not want me to attend. What can I do?

Child protection

The mother should usually be allowed to have an advocate at child protection meetings/conferences. This is not a legal right but government guidance in Working Together 2020 strongly recognises that parents should be given information about advocacy services and allowed to bring an advocate to meetings.

If the social worker is reluctant to allow you to attend as the mother’s advocate or supporter or to contribute to the discussions in the meeting, you may find it helpful to remind them what Working Together says about this. You could also highlight research evidence which shows how advocacy can support families to work in partnership with social workers. You could also point out that as an advocate you can help the mother to:

  • prepare for meetings
  • ask questions
  • have a voice in the meetings
  • challenge constructively and
  • review what was discussed or agreed after the meeting and plan what to do next.

This is likely to lead to her working more effectively with the professionals in the future and to better outcomes for her child.

If the mother is still prevented from bringing you to meetings with her as her advocate you can make the points:

  • That case law supports the principle that parents should be allowed to have advocacy support as long as the advocate is not too adversarial (R v Cornwall CC ex parte LH 1999 (2000) 1FLR 236 p.244C) and
  • That the Human Rights Act 1998 requires children’s services’ to follow fair procedures when making decisions to keep children safe. That fairness should include bringing an advocate to important meetings.

The mother you are supporting may have a disability which prevents her from taking part fully in meetings on her own. In which case you can argue that she should have an advocate so as not to be disadvantaged and to comply with the Equality Act 2010.

There is also good practice guidance on working with parents with a learning disability. This states that parents with learning disabilities should have access to independent advocacy when there are child protection or care proceedings.

It is very important that your role or relationship to the child and mother is clear. If you are providing a service as part of the professional network you may be expected to contribute to the professional discussion and the decision whether the child is at risk rather than being there as the mother’s advocate.

You may find it helpful to follow FRG’s guides to professional family advocacy standards and code of practice.

You can also look at FRG’s advice sheet on advocacy for families when social workers make plans for their children.

FAQs on help available and how to ask for support

What help can a mother ask for under a child in need or child protection plan?

Children’s services can provide a range of services to help keep a mother and their child safe. This can include a combination of practical and emotional support. It might also involve referring families to specialist agencies.

The child does not need to be on a child protection plan for the mother and her child to be offered support. Government guidance states that getting support should be based on assessed needs and is not dependent on a child being at risk of harm.

You can find out more about helpful services under what help mothers can you get under a child protection plan. Services can also be offered under early help or family support services.

Family Group Conference

You can ask the mother if she would like a family group conference (FGC) to be held. This is a family-led meeting which brings together the child’s family network to make a plan which can help the mother care for her child and keep them safe. It can also identify anyone else in the family who could care for her child, if needed.

Of course, any meeting would have to be safe for both the mother and her child. If the mother would find this helpful you could help her ask the social worker to arrange this. To find out more about this process see the FRG advice sheet on family group conferences or watch our film.

How can I ask for a particular type of support for a mother and her child?

You and the mother who you are supporting have identified a specific service which would help her and/or her child. However, it may need to be funded by children’s services. Or they may need to make a referral for the mother and child to access the service. In this circumstance, do consider making this request in writing.

In the letter (or email), you should provide all relevant information including costs and dates etc. You need to explain clearly how this would help. You could emphasise the child’s needs or how the service might help the mother to better meet her child’s needs. You could also raise this at any relevant planning meetings, such as team around the child, child is in need meetings. Other professionals at these meetings may support your request if they agree it would help. By being clear about what you are asking for and why, you will make it easier for the social worker to confidently present your request for specific support to their manager or resource panel. They should consider your request and respond appropriately.

If help is refused always ask for reasons in writing.

If the mother is unhappy with the services offered or with a decision made by children’s services, she can make a complaint. Children’s services must deal with the complaint within specific time limits. The process and tips for making a complaint are described in the FRG advice sheet on challenging decisions and making complaints.

What help can a pregnant woman and a mother get if they have no recourse to public funds and are affected by domestic abuse?

A pregnant woman or mother trying to keep her child and herself safe from domestic abuse faces enormous challenges where she has no recourse to public funds. Children’s services must provide support to a child in their area who is assessed as in need, to help their family care for them and keep them safe.

You can ask for the child’s needs to be assessed. You should explain how the child’s health or development is affected. Also set out what help the child’s mother thinks is needed and why it will help her child to stay safe and thrive. A child who is homeless or living in an unsafe environment is likely to be considered to be a child in need.

You can refer to section 17 (6) of the Children Act 1989. This states that children’s services may provide families with practical help (including cash) to buy essential equipment, food and other necessary items or even help with housing costs.

You can also highlight that schedule 2 paragraph 5 of the Children Act 1989 under which local authorities can provide accommodation to an adult in order to protect a child.

If the mother has uncertain immigration status, it might be more difficult to obtain this form of help and in some circumstances children’s services may pass on their details to the Home office.

If the mother is concerned about this happening, it is important that she gets specialist immigration advice before approaching children’s services.

Do ask for a copy of the local eligibility criteria.

You can also remind children’s services of the relevant case law in R (G) v Barnet (2004) which states that a destitute child will be a child in need if:

  • They do not have adequate accommodation or any means of obtaining it (whether or not their other essential living needs are met); or
  • They have adequate accommodation or the means of obtaining it, but cannot meet their other essential living needs.

You may be able to clearly show how the mother and child you are assisting fit this description of destitution and therefore need help to address it.

Where children’s services state that they will financially support or accommodate a child only and not the child’s mother this should be challenged. The mother should get the help of a solicitor, where possible. You can point out that the local authority should house a family together to prevent a breach of their human rights. You can reiterate children’s services section 17 (3) Children Act 1989 powers to provide support to a whole family if it safeguards and promotes the child’s welfare.

This can be a difficult area of advocacy so do look at where you and the family can obtain further help.

FAQs on foster care and family options if a mother cannot continue to care for her child

I am working with a mother who is terrified that her child may be placed in foster care because of the domestic abuse. How can I help her?

Many mothers are very fearful that a social worker will remove their child if there are serious worries about domestic abuse or other difficulties. It may be helpful to explain social workers should work with families to make things better and safer for the child at home. Most children remain with their families during child protection processes and afterwards. However, where there are very serious concerns or the situation is not improving or they feel that the mother is not working with them, then children’s services then may consider additional action to protect a child.

Social workers do not have the power to remove a child from their mother’s care unless:

  • the family court has granted an order, pursuant to a plan for the removal of the child from the mother, to allow child services to remove the child or
  • the mother or someone else with parental responsibility for the child agrees to the child being accommodated and no other person who holds parental responsibility for the child and who is able to provide the child with accommodation or arrange accommodation for the child, objects.

If a child is in immediate danger and needs to be protected police can take the child into police protection for up to 72 hours.

If there is any suggestion that a child should not remain in their mother’s care she should seek immediate advice from a solicitor specialising in children’s law or contact Family Rights Group’s advice line.

How can I advocate for a mother when she is worried her child will be removed?

You can best help a mother who is concerned about her child being removed by supporting her to understand:

  • the process she is in and her options;
  • the expectations children’s services have of her;
  • what support is being/should be offered;
  • to express what she thinks might help.

By working alongside her, you may be able to encourage her to work with the professionals involved. You can also help to ensure that the professionals have a realistic understanding of the context for women and children living with domestic abuse.

If you can help her work with children’s services, she will have a better chance of safely keeping her child in her care.

If you are able to attend meetings with the mother as her advocate then you will be better able to help her understand her options and make more informed decisions.

Encourage her to seek independent legal advice as needed.

If the mother has additional needs, for example if she misuses alcohol or drugs which are adding to her difficulties try to make sure that she gets support to address these. You may find some helpful services in FRG useful links.

Encourage her to think about asking for a family group conference. This could enable her and the child’s family network to make a safe plan for the child.

I am supporting a mother who has been asked to agree to a section 20 placement. What does this mean?

Sometimes, when social workers are concerned that it is unsafe for a child to remain at home they will ask the child’s parents to agree to the child going into care under a section 20 placement.

Section 20 of the Children Act 1989 is the part of the law that gives children’s services the power to look after a child through a voluntary arrangement with the parents or when there is no-one with parental responsibility for the child. This can lead to a child going to foster care or residential care.

When a child is in the care system under section 20 their mother (and any other person with parental responsibility) retains parental responsibility for them. Children’s services are looking after the child but do not have parental responsibility. Children’s services only obtain parental responsibility if they have a court order that gives them this.

If the mother or another person with parental responsibility does not consent to the child going into or staying in care under a section 20 voluntary arrangement, then it cannot go ahead (except in very exceptional circumstances ahead – see here). If consent to a section 20 placement is refused and children’s services believe that the child needs urgent protection, they could apply to court for an emergency protection order or ask the police to take the child into police protection.

Always support the mother to get legal advice before agreeing to her child going into care under a voluntary arrangement. She should also get legal advice if she is considering withdrawing her consent and asking for her child to return home. For more information please see where to get further help.

If the child is in the care system under a section 20 voluntary arrangement then their mother should be fully involved in drawing up their written care plan. Children’s services should agree the plan with her, as far as is reasonably practical. She should receive a written copy of the child’s plans. She should be told the name of the child’s Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO). This is the person who will review the child’s care plan. She should also be involved in the child’s Looked After Review meetings. This is where the child’s care and future plans are discussed.

You will find helpful information about section 20 voluntary arrangements in FRG’s advice sheet on family support. You could also look at the FRG advice sheet on Duties on Children’s Services when children are in the care system.

FRG’s advice sheet on contact with children accommodated by children’s services provides lots of relevant information about contact. You may also be interested in reading more about research evidence and court decisions about section 20 voluntary arrangements.

What can a mother ask for if she agrees, or the court decides, that her child cannot continue living with her?

She can ask children’s services to place her child with relatives or friends, instead of going to live with foster carers who the child does not know. They would have to be assessed to see if they are suitable to look after the child. If they are, they will be a family and friends foster carer. See FRG advice sheet on Relatives and friends taking on the care of a vulnerable child in an emergency. Also see FRG advice sheet on Family and friends care: becoming a foster carer.

What other family options might there be if the child is not able to safely stay with their mother?

It is important that the mother thinks about involving her family or friends as soon as possible:

  • in supporting her to care for the child; or
  • as alternative carers (temporarily or long term) if there is a possibility that her child may not be able to remain with her. This is particularly important if professionals are concerned about her ability to keep her child safe.

A family group conference is a useful way of bringing together a family network to try to find safe solutions for a child. They can consider how the mother can be supported to care for her child. They may also explore whether someone else in the family can safely care for them, with appropriate help. A family group conference can be organised at any point where a plan is needed for the child. This could be when a child is in need, if they have a child protection plan or if care proceedings are being considered. See FRG advice sheet on family group conferences for more information.

The mother can ask that a relative or friend to be assessed by social workers as a foster carer for her child if the child cannot remain with her. See FRG advice sheet on family and friends care: becoming a foster carer.

A family member can apply for a court order to care for the child. The main orders are child arrangement orders stating with whom the child should live and special guardianship orders. The mother does not lose her parental responsibility. The carer with the order however, also acquires parental responsibility for the child. In the case of a special guardianship order, the special guardian can usually override a mother’s wishes, if they cannot agree. The mother needs the court’s permission to apply to end a special guardianship order. She must also be able to prove a significant change in circumstances. The mother is not restricted from applying to end a child arrangements order unless the court order says so.

The social worker has informed a mother I am supporting that there is going to be a legal planning meeting. What does that mean?

Legal planning

If children’s services is worried about a child despite a child protection plan being in place, they may call a legal planning meeting. This is where social workers and the council’s lawyers will decide what next steps they should take to protect the child. Parents are not invited to attend a legal planning meeting.

The legal planning meeting may decide that the local authority needs to consider applying to court for a care order to remove a child from their parent’s care. However, except in an emergency situation, children’s services would have to show the court how they have worked with a family to resolve concerns before going to court. This should include providing further support to the family. It should also include exploring alternative care within the family. In either situation, children’s services will send the mother and father a formal letter informing them of their plans. This will be:

  • A letter before proceedings: this sets out the local authority’s concerns and what the family can do to stop court proceedings from happening; or
  • A letter of issue: this states that the local authority are starting legal proceedings.

If the mother receives either letter she should seek urgent legal advice from a solicitor specialising in children’s law. She will not have to pay her solicitor’s costs if she gives them the letter.

For more information about the child protection process see FRG’s advice sheet on child protection procedures.

A mother I am working with has been invited to a pre-proceedings meeting. What might happen at this meeting?

Pre-proceedings meeting

If children’s services send the mother a letter before proceedings they should invite her to attend a pre-proceedings meeting. The child’s father should also be invited. If the mother feels this could put her or the child at further risk, you can support her to propose safety measures. This meeting may be the last opportunity for the mother to discuss with children’s services what they still want her to do to avoid them going to court. She can clarify their concerns and also make what support she needs from them. She will normally be given a further 6 weeks after the meeting to make necessary changes to keep her child safe. If the local authority think insufficient progress has been made within this time, children’s services will normally apply to court for an order to remove her child.

It is very important that:

  • the mother attends this meeting
  • she asks a solicitor specialising in children’s law to go to the meeting with her
  • she prepares what she wants to say beforehand.

She should also discuss with her wider family how they can help her keep her child safe, before she goes to the pre-proceedings meeting. She could ask the social worker to arrange a family group conference. This would enable the family to come together to make a safe plan, that spells out what help they can provide her and identifying who could care for her child, if she cannot.

She should also let the social worker know that she will come to the meeting.

How can I help a mother if her case is going into care proceedings?

Care proceedings are when children’s services apply to the court for a care order. If a care order is made, children’s services have the right to remove her child from her care. It also gives parental responsibility to the local authority.

If the local authority are starting care proceedings to remove her child, then unless it is an emergency, they should send the mother a letter of issue telling her this. It is important that the mother works closely with a specialist solicitor to prepare her case. She will have a right to free legal aid.

You can help her by:

  • supporting her to work effectively with her solicitor;
  • encouraging her to keep a folder with all the information about the case; and
  • encouraging her to make a note of all appointments and telephone calls and keep her own records of contact sessions.

The recommended timescale for completing care proceedings is 26 weeks. If you can support her to work with the professionals to address the problems and to liaise closely with her solicitor, you will be helping her during this difficult process.

For more information about the court process please see FRG’s advice sheet on Care (and related) proceedings.

FAQs on court orders

What is a care order? What does a care order mean for a mother and her child?

A care order is a court order which places a child in the care of children’s services. The court may initially make a temporary interim care order. A care order (or interim care order) gives the local authority parental responsibility. The child’s parents also retain their parental responsibility. Although the mother must be consulted about decisions concerning her child, children’s services have the final say. They can therefore make plans for the child which their mother may disagree with.

The mother can have free legal representation from a solicitor during care proceedings. It is really important that she works effectively with the solicitor to prepare her case, understand what is happening and to try to make sure that all possible options are explored before a care order is made. It is more difficult to challenge any court order once it has been made.

It is possible for the mother to ask the court to end a care order. However, there would have to be a significant change of circumstances from when the order was made, it should be in the child’s best interests and any current risk would have to be assessed.

Find out more about the court process and how the court makes its decision in FRG advice sheet on care (and related) proceedings.

Can the mother see her child if the child is in care?

The mother will usually continue to have contact with her child if the child is in care. This may be set down in a court order. Contact arrangements will be recorded in the child’s care plan and reviewed at the child’s Looked After Child Review.

Children’s services cannot stop contact with a mother unless the court allows them to so.

If the mother needs financial help (e.g. with travel costs) to see her child, she should raise this with the child’s social worker. Children’s services can provide financial support to promote contact between a mother and her child but they do not have to.

For more information about contact see FRG advice sheet Contact with children in care.

The mother I am working with has a child home on a Supervision Order. What does this mean?

Sometimes the court may decide not to make a care order but to make a supervision order to the mother. The mother retains parental responsibility and remains responsible for caring for her child with supervision from children’s services. In this situation children’s services do not have parental responsibility for the child and the mother is responsible for decisions about her child. A social worker will usually agree a plan or contract with the mother setting out what is expected of the mother and what help the social worker or children’s services will give. A supervision order is usually for up to one year unless children’s services obtain an extension from the court (for a maximum of two years).

FAQs on a mother’s rights when working with children’s Services

What are a mother’s rights when children’s services are involved with her child because of domestic abuse?

Parental responsibility

The mother has parental responsibility for her child. This means she has the legal right to make decisions about how her child is raised. However, if children’s Services have concerns about her child safety and well-being, they can make child protection enquiries. If a child protection conference is held and decides the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering significant, they can make a child protection plan. If the parents do not do what is stipulated in the plan, the local authority may apply to court for a care order or emergency protection order. The order would give them the right to remove the child from the mother’s care and decide how her child should be cared for.

For more information about parental responsibility see the FRG advice sheet on parental responsibility.

Working in partnership

Social workers should work in an open and transparent way with a mother. They should establish her views. They should share all relevant information with her except where this would place her child at risk of harm.

Partnership working is very important during child protection processes. The mother may feel that others are making decisions for her child despite her parental responsibility. This may be very difficult for her given she may feel that the perpetrator of the domestic abuse has already controlled so much of her life. She may benefit from advice and advocacy to help her understand her options, take part in meetings and have her say. Advocacy/support can also help her understand the local authority’s concerns. This may help establish a way of working with professionals to reduce concerns.

For more information see FRG’s advice sheet on child protection procedures. You can also read FRG’s advice sheet on advocacy services for families when social workers make plans for their children.

Access to information

The mother has a right to see information held by children’s services about her and her family (under the Data Protection Act 1998). She also has a right to see non-personal information (under the Freedom of Information Act 2000). Children’s services can refuse to provide her with information in certain specific situations. If this happens the mother should ask for a written explanation about why this information is being withheld. She can also seek further advice and/or make a complaint. This process is explained in more detail in FRG advice sheet on access to records held by children’s services.

Keeping personal information confidential

A mother who has experienced domestic abuse may be worried about the perpetrator (and perhaps his family) having personal information about her or her child. She may be especially concerned about keeping her address confidential. You could support her to tell the social worker if her address is confidential. She may also want to make clear to the social worker than if any plans are to be shared, she wants to be consulted before it happens. She could also ask that any decision to share information is made by a manager. She can also ask to be told what information is to be shared, with whom and why.

There is a more extensive advice about this issue in FRG’s online FAQs for mothers.


A mother has a right to make a complaint if she is in unhappy with any of the decisions or services provided by the social worker or children’s services. She can also make a complaint if she and her child are not getting the support they need. Children’s services must deal with complaints promptly and in line with specific timescales.

You can find information about the complaints process and useful tips for making a complaint in FRG’s advice sheet on challenging decisions and making complaints.

Care system

A mother should be consulted about any significant decision about her child’s care if the child is in the care system, unless the court says that children’s services do not have to.

Note on the language we have used:

We refer to survivors of domestic abuse as “the mother” or “she”. We refer to the abuser or perpetrator as “he”. We have chosen to use this language because it reflects the situation in the majority of cases. However, we recognise that men can also be survivors of domestic violence and that domestic violence can occur in same sex couples.

The information we have provided generally applies to England and Wales. However, there are some differences in the law between England and Wales. If you live in Wales you could get local advice from a solicitor or Citizen’s Advice Bureau.

People pie chart

Our funding means we can currently only help 4 in 10 people

Your donation will help more families access expert legal advice and support from Family Rights Group.

Donate Now