The local authority can seek a full care order, under section 31 of the Children Act 1989. This means the local authority holds much more responsibility and the parent loses more of their rights to make decisions for the child.
The local authority will only try to do this when they are worried that the parent will not work with them to ensure the child is suitably cared for, or when the parents/carers have significantly harmed the child or put the child at risk of significant harm.
Significant harm means anything that puts the child’s health, well-being and development at risk. This could be what social workers see as deliberately harming a child like physical abuse or where a parent is failing to provide the full range of care a child needs to stay emotionally and physically well. This would include things like access to education, schooling, and access to play.
When a local authority becomes involved, either because a parent has contacted them or someone like a teacher, the first thing they do is to ask a social worker to visit the family. The social worker must do an ‘assessment of needs’ in the family, with the focus being the needs of the child.
This will mean a social worker will visit the home and ask a lot of questions about family life, and how the child is looked after. The social worker will speak to all the professionals involved in the family’s life, such as teachers, doctors etc. From this assessment, the local authority will decide if the family are unable to care for the child at that time.
The first option that will be considered is whether there is anyone in the extended family or close friends who can look after the child. If there is, the local authority can help arrange this. They have to make sure that those people will be able to care for the child properly, so they will need to do an assessment with them too. If this isn’t possible, the next option will be a foster carer.
Many parents worry about children’s social care services becoming involved in their family life. It is important to remember: