Protecting Your Child Online

The NSPCC are the leading children’s charity fighting to end child abuse in the UK and Channel Islands.  The primary aim of the NSPCC is to help children who have been abused rebuild their lives, protect those at risk, and find the best ways of preventing abuse  from happening.  

In her guest blog for Life Law NI,  NSPCC Local Campaigns Manager in Northern Ireland Margaret Gallagher sets out ways in which parents can help protect their children from some of the risks they can be exposed to by being online

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We always try to teach our children that it’s good to share, but online it’s different.                                                                       

We know parents can feel confused by the internet – it’s constantly changing and can be hard to keep up with the latest apps and trends.  It can be particularly tricky for parents of children aged around 8-12 years old as this is the age when children start doing more online, becoming independent and using different devices.

Parents in today’s technological world must be alert to the risks that their children can potentially be exposed to on the internet.  Some of those risks include the following:-

  • Inappropriate content, including pornography
  • Friending or communicating with people they don’t know
  • Cyber bullying
  • Grooming and sexual abuse
  • Sharing personal information
  • Ignoring age restrictions
  • Gambling or running up debts

How can I protect my child from risk on the internet?

Talk to your child

One of the easiest and most effective things parents can do is to talk to your child about the consequences of sharing information online.   Help your child think about who sees what they share, and compare it to what they would be happy to share in real life.   Use examples that are easy for them to understand: “You wouldn’t give your phone number to a stranger on the street, is a stranger online any different?”

Explain to your child how everything they share online – like usernames, images and comments – builds up a picture of who they are.  Encourage your child to think about what they share, even with friends, as once it’s online it’s out of their control. You can talk about privacy settings and how they help your child control who can see what they share.

If you’re unsure about how to do any of this yourself, you can visit www.net-aware.org.uk for simple, no nonsense advice.

 Inform and protect yourself

The online world can feel daunting, but there are lots of things you can do to take back control, like installing the latest filters and making sure you have a good level of security on your computers and other online devices in your home.

You can keep up to date and informed about all the latest social media or new apps that your child may have access to.  NSPCC’s Net Aware will give you a run-down of all of the trending apps and social media tools that could be being accessed by your children.

We have also recently joined forces with O2, with the aim of getting every family in the UK to talk about and understand their child’s online world, just as they would their day at school.  Parents can attend workshops to help them understand the internet as children do, and there’s also a free internet safety helpline 0808 8005002 if there’s a question about parental controls or concern about a social network.

 Set a good example

You can also help your child by simply setting a good example online. It might not always feel like it, but your child does notice how you act and will follow your lead, so it’s important to show them what safe sharing looks like.

What can I do if my child has been exposed to harm online?

If things go wrong, it can be very worrying for you and your child but the NSPCC can help.   Whether you child ‘overshared’ or someone else has shared some content with them that you’d rather they hadn’t seen, there will always be something you can do to make it better.

If your child sees something online that they think they shouldn’t have seen, let them know it’s not necessarily their fault – they shouldn’t feel guilty and they can always talk to you.

Your child can contact ChildLine and ask them to help with taking an illegal image off the internet by making a report to the Internet Watch Foundation on their behalf.

If you think your own child or any other is at immediate risk because of what they have shared or seen, you can contact the police or the NSPCC for advice on 0808 800 5000.

If you require any further information on this matter or the law surrounding it, please contact us using the comments form below or email us here.

NSPCC Northern Ireland

NSPCCNIAlmost 2,000 children in Northern Ireland were identified as needing protection from abuse last year.

The NSPCC are the leading children’s charity in the UK and Channel Islands fighting to end child abuse.   Through our work, the NSPCC help children who have been abused rebuild their lives, protect those at risk, and find the best ways of preventing abuse from happening.

At NSPCC Northern Ireland, we provide support to parents and families in caring for their children. We assist families that are going through difficult time, like battling addiction or overcoming mental health problems, as well as providing therapeutic services to help children move on from abuse.

We also provide guidance to professionals such as social workers to help them make the best decisions for children, across the UK.

What services are available in Northern Ireland?

The following NSPCC services are available in Northern Ireland:

ChildLine

Childline is a 24 hour helpline for children and young people who need help and support. It is a private and confidential place for a child to talk to one of our counsellors, all of whom are trained staff and volunteers with experience of listening and talking to children and young people. Call 0808 1111, or access support by email or direct message by visiting www.childline.org.uk

NSPCC Helpline

The NSPCC Helpline provides help and support to thousands of parents, professionals and families. This is a place adults can contact by phone or online to get advice or share their concerns about a child, anonymously if they wish.

Professionals such as teachers and doctors also contact us on the Helpline for information guidance and impartial advice from professional counsellors on a range of issues, no matter how small they may seem. You can call the Helpline on 0808 800 5000 or email help@nspcc.org.uk

Young Witness Service

The NSPCC Young Witness Service offers free, independent and confidential support and assistance to children and young people who have to go through the trauma of giving evidence in court.   NSPCC workers and volunteers provide information and advice to children and young people – as well as their family, friends and supported, – before, during and after a trial.

This service is available to young witnesses in all types of crime and in every Crown, Magistrate or Youth Court. The service can be contacted on 028 2044 1650 for further information.

Other services

The NSPCC Northern Ireland operates a range of other services out of centres in Belfast, Craigavon and Foyle.  These services include the following:-

  • Sexual abuse recovery services – protection, prevention and support services for child who have been or are at risk of sexual abuse or exploitation
  • Neglect services – aimed at assessing and identifying neglect, providing support to parents and reviewing family situations to protect children at risk of harm.
  • Early intervention services – aimed at providing ante natal and post natal support to help parents cope with the pressure of having a baby
  • Family support services – services aimed at supporting parents with issues surrounding domestic violence, alcohol abuse and mental health issues
  • Helping children living with parents with mental health issues
  • Support for parents struggling to take care of their children
  • Support for young people in care.

Visit www.nspcc.org.uk/services or call 0808 800 5000 for more information on the services we provide

For more information on the services NSPCC provide, please visit www.nspcc.org.uk/services or call 0808 800 5000

Social Services & Your Family

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Many parents may feel anxious at the prospect of having Social Services involved with their family– perhaps because of experiences they may have heard from others, read in the media or just simply because they are frightened that Social Workers will try to remove their children from their care. 

These fears are completely natural and certainly in my experience, not many parents appreciate a stranger, no matter how professional and qualified they may be, “coming into my home and telling me how to raise my kids”.

That being said, Social Services do play an important role in our society when it comes to ensuring the safety and well-being of children within our communities.

Who are Social Services?

Community Care and Social Service in Northern Ireland is provided by a number of Health & Social Care organisations, known as ‘Trusts’. There are a total of 6 Health and Social Care (HSC) Trusts in Northern Ireland.

Each HSC Trust provides an array of social services, from children’s services, disability services, older people services, mental health services and services for vulnerable adults to name a few.

What is the role of Social Services when dealing with children?

Social Services have an obligation by law to safeguard the welfare of children who they believe may have suffered, or are at risk of suffering harm.

How can Social Services become involved with my family?

A Social Worker can become involved with your family in many ways:-

  • You may directly request support from Social Services in times of stress or for help regarding a particular child or family problem you have.
  • Teachers, Health Visitors, GPs or other professionals working with your family or children may make a referral to Social Services if they have any concerns about a child.
  • Any person, whether known to you or anonymous, who is concerned about the treatment of your child can make a referral to Social Services seeking that they investigate matters.
  • It is also common for the Police to refer matters to Social Services, for example in instances where domestic violence between adults could potentially result in harm to the children.

Can Social Services remove my children from me?

If Social Services believe that your child is at risk of suffering significant harm if they remain with you, they can (if certain criteria are satisfied) apply to the Court and request an Order for the removal of your child from your care. These proceedings are known as care proceedings.

However, issues that Social Services have with your care of your children can be resolved without the need for care proceedings

How can I avoid care proceedings?

If a Social Worker becomes concerned about the welfare of your child, in most cases they will firstly arrange a meeting with both parents to see if it is possible to reach agreement about what needs to happen to protect your child from harm, so that Court proceedings can be avoided.

This meeting is known as a pre-proceedings meeting.

The Social Worker is required to send both parents a letter inviting them to attend at this meeting.  This letter will also set out in detail and in plain language exactly what the concerns are and exactly what Social Services suggest should be done to deal with these concerns and avoid Court proceedings. It is very important for parents to attend at a pre-proceedings meeting with Social Services.

Am I entitled to legal representation at a pre-proceedings meeting?

Yes, each parent is entitled to bring a legal representative with them to a pre-proceedings meeting and they will be entitled to Legal Aid to cover any legal costs, regardless of their income.

What if I do not attend at the pre-proceedings meeting?

If there is a failure to engage in this process for whatever reason, this may result in Social Services issuing care proceedings in respect of your child.

If you receive a letter from Social Services inviting you to a pre-proceedings meeting you should seek legal advice immediately.

Experienced and professional legal advice at this stage of Social Services involvement with your family will go a long way in helping to address any issues or concerns that Social Services may have whilst potentially avoiding the need for lengthy and stressful Court proceedings.

We will be posting more information on care proceedings in the coming weeks however if you need any further information on the pre-proceedings stage, or have any general comments on your experiences with Social Services, we would love to hear your comments below.
Or alternatively, please contact Karen (kconnolly@fhanna.co.uk) or Claire (cegdar@fhanna.co.uk)

Medical Treatment & Your Children

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‘When Parents & Medics Collide’

Caring for a sick child comes with the territory of being a parent. From teething to the latest stomach bug to hit the school playground, all of us will have spent many a sleepless night nursing a crying child, trying our best to comfort them and wishing that there was something more we could do to make them feel better.

Thankfully, for most of us, a child’s sickness is fleeting – coughs are soon replaced by chuckles, and peace (as well as sleep!) returns to your home. However, for parents faced with looking after a seriously or chronically ill child, life is much more challenging.

The case of Aysha King

There is no better example of the difficulties faced by such parents than the case involving five-year old cancer sufferer Aysha King.

Aysha became the topic of much media and legal debate when his parents removed him, without his doctor’s knowledge, from hospital during his treatment for a brain tumour. They took Aysha abroad in a bid to get alternative treatment for him. It was reported that this treatment was unavailable on the NHS in the hospital that Aysha was being treated in, but it was treatment that Aysha’s parents, strongly believed would help him.

Aysha’s parents would say that they were trying to do what they believed was best for their very ill son. The UK authorities disagreed and legal applications were made to try and have Aysha returned to the UK against his parent’s wishes.

This case highlights the difficulties faced when parents and doctors are at loggerheads as to thebest way to medically treat a minor child.

It begs the question : –

Who should have the ultimate say when it comes to deciding what is best for a child in terms of medical care?

Parental Responsibility

In Northern Ireland, parents or relatives with ‘parental responsibility’ of a child have the right to consent to medical treatment on behalf of that child, provided the treatment is in the best interests of the child.

In the vast majority of cases, both the parents and the medical professionals treating a child will be in agreement as to the best course of treatment.

In practice, doctors are reluctant to override a parent’s strongly held views, particularly where both the advantages and disadvantages of treatment are finely balanced and it is unclear as to what is in the child’s best interests.

What if doctors and parents don’t agree on what is the best course of medical treatment for a child??

Where a doctor believes that a child’s parents are following a course of medical action which is not in the child’s interests, they can seek for the Court to decide on what is best for the child; meanwhile they will provide only emergency treatment to the child to preserve life or prevent serious deterioration in their condition.

Likewise, should parents wish a child to have treatment which a doctor feels is inappropriate, the parents can issue Court proceedings and ask the Court to decide what is in the child’s best interests.

What factors will a Court look at in these cases?

When considering all cases of this nature, the Court shall have regard to the human rights of both the parents and child.

Ultimately, however, the Court will consider the child’s welfare as the overriding consideration when looking at cases like this.

It is therefore unlikely that parents would be permitted by the Court to do the following:-

  • To proceed with medical treatment which is thought to be inappropriate.
  • To refuse medical treatment which is in the child’s best interests.

For example, where a child requires a blood transfusion to treat a serious illness, the refusal to agree to this treatment by a parent who objects because of their beliefs as a Jehovah’s Witness is unlikely to be deemed by the Court to be in the child’s best interests.

It goes without saying that in the event of a dispute between parents and medical professionals, all possible alternatives should be discussed thoroughly between the parties in an effort to reach an agreement before seeking the Court’s intervention.

Sympathetic and sound legal advice during this challenging time can help support parents making difficult decisions in their child’s best interests.

As always, we invite your comments on this topic – do you agree with the law?? Or do you believe parents should always have the final say when it comes to treatment of their children??
If you require more information on this topic, feel free to contact Claire or Karen directly.

Father’s Rights

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Father’s Day is a celebration of fatherhood, paternal bonds and the influence of fathers in our lives.  It’s a day when children lavish daddy with cards, gifts, hugs and kisses and where fathers celebrate both the joys and rewards of having children.

Of course, the role of being a dad extends above and beyond one particular day and as any dad will know, along with the rewards of having children comes a lifetime of responsibility. It is the job of both parents to ensure that this responsibility is taken seriously and exercised in the best interests of their children.

This can sometimes be difficult to achieve when the parent’s relationship breaks down. Separation, particularly when the father and child no longer live together, can leave daddy feeling like his role in his child’s life is somehow diminished and less important.

This does not have to be the case. As a father, you can have Parental Responsibility for your child

What is Parental Responsibility?

Parental Responsibility is the legal term for the rights of each parent to be involved in making decisions in the best interest of their children.

It is defined in the Children (NI) Order 1995 as ‘all rights, duties, powers and responsibilities and authority which by law a parent has in relation to the child and his property.’

Do I have Parental Responsibility?

If you are married to the mother at the time of the child’s birth, you automatically get Parental Responsibility.

If you and the child’s mother are not married, Parental Responsibility is not automatic but you can get it n the following ways:-

  • If your child is born after December 2003 and you are named on the birth certificate
  • Through a formal written agreement with the mother
  • By obtaining a Parental Responsibility Order from the Court
  • By having a Residence Order in respect of your child.

What difference does having Parental Responsibility make?

Parental Responsibility is not a label to be worn by a father.

In practical terms, this responsibility gives you as the child’s father the right, for example,

  • To be involved in choosing their school
  • To be kept informed of their progress at school and sent copies of school reports.
  • To give consent to medical treatment
  • To determine your child’s religion
  • To be involved in choosing their child’s name and to agree any change in surname.

I have separated from my child’s mother – do I still have rights?

The short answer is yes.

Parental Responsibility goes some way to ensuring that you can continue to have a pro-active and beneficial input into your child’s life.

Where parents separate, it will often be the case that they can work out themselves where their children are to live and how much time they will spend with each parent.

However, if you cannot agree arrangement with your child’s mother, then you can apply to the Court and ask it to make decisions that are deemed to be in the best interests of your child.

  • The Court can decide where and with whom your child should live. This is known as a Residence Order.
  • In some cases, the Court may make a Joint Residence Order in favour of both parents, where the contact arrangements are such that your child will be spending time living in both your home and their mum’s home.
  • If your child lives with mum, the Court can decide on how much contact you can have with your child. This is known as Contact Orders.
Although in an ideal world it is better where possible for parents to agree issues concerning their children, the law is there to guarantee your child’s right to enjoy a relationship with both parents where this is in their best interests.

For further information on this topic, please feel free to contact Karen or Claire or alternatively leave us your comments below.