Social Services & Your Children

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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)

LIFE BITE: Other explanation for alleged Shaken Baby Syndrome highlighted in recent England case.

apple-150579_1280A recent case in England has highlighted the importance of fully and thoroughly investigating cases of suspected Shaken Baby Syndrome.

Shaken Baby Syndrome’ is one of many names given to an injury normally termed as ‘Abusive Head Trauma’.

This is an injury which is normally caused by someone (most often a parent or other caregiver) forcefully shaking a child or striking a child’s head against a surface.   It is presumed that many cases of Shaken Baby Syndrome occur when the caregiver cannot get the baby to stop crying and, out of frustration or anger, shakes the baby.   Unfortunately, this shaking can have the effect of causing brain damage to a very young child.

Last year, a young couple in England, Craig Stillwell and Carla Andrews, had their baby daughter Effie removed from their care for almost 8 months after Social Services were concerned that an injury akin to Shaken Baby Syndrome had been caused to Effie’s brain.

Effie collapsed last August 2016 aged five months and at the hospital, Mr Stillwell was arrested by the police and accused of causing grievous bodily harm to her.   The local Council took the case to the Family Court, alleged a non-accidental injury had been caused to Effie and they sought an Order for her to be placed in care.  Effie was placed in foster care whilst the case was investigated and her parents were only allowed to see her three times a week for 90 minutes in a supervised environment.

It was only when Effie’s mother Miss Andrews researched what could have caused the bleeding in her daughter’s brain and after subsequent medical tests, that it was revealed that Effie suffered from a rare medical condition known as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome type IV (EDS).   This is a condition which causes “thin and translucent skin, easy bruising, vascular and arterial rupture”.

Upon discovering this alternative cause of the injuries to Effie, the Court case was withdrawn and Effie was returned home to her parent’s care.

Miss Andrews told the media that it was “amazing” to have her daughter back home but that she and her partner had been treated “like monsters” at the hospital and that the whole ordeal was “heartbreaking”.

The couple were not going to take any action against the local Council but wanted to raise awareness of the condition.   Miss Andrews said: “I feel bitter towards the hospital. I know they have to do their job but they should’ve gone about it differently.”  Mr Stillwell added: “We want to get the awareness out there that these connected tissue disorders do exist.  They may be invisible but they can cause a lot of damage and they do mimic child abuse and shaken baby syndromes.”

Unfortunately, the Courts here in Northern Ireland see cases of suspected Shaken Baby Syndrome.  The above example highlights how important it is in each case to explore all other possible causes of the injury and to ensure that there is minimal delay in collecting medical evidence from experts in this field.
If you require any further information on Shaken Baby Syndrome or non accidental injury, please feel free to contact is confidentially here

Social Services & Your Family

swan

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)