- Date requested: 31 January 2011
- Publish date: 17 February 2011
- Updated: 26 April 2012
Can the department provide data that justifies the permanent removal of children from families where all of the following apply:
- No criminal conviction for abuse or neglect of children despite abuse/neglect being a crime (due to lack of evidence).
- No full assessment at a Residential Family Assessment Centre despite this being declared an ECHR Art 6 right in Case Law. etc.
What safeguards are in place so that families described in 1 above do not become victims of abuse of care proceedings resulting in families having their children permanently removed?
How many complaints have been addressed to the Department of Education regarding abuse of care proceedings?
When does the department intend to reform family law so that it is about child protection of children who are being harmed, rather than children who are ‘adoptable’?
The information about cases where children have been permanently removed from their families is not held by the department.
The law is clear in that children should live with their parents wherever possible and, when necessary, families should be given extra support to help keep them together. In most cases, support from the local authority enables any concerns to be addressed and children remain with their families.
In situations where a child is identified as suffering, or at risk of suffering, significant harm, the local authority has a statutory duty to intervene to undertake child protection enquiries and to take action to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare.
Whilst local authorities have powers to apply to the courts for emergency protection orders and the police have powers to remove children so that they can act immediately to protect a child, local authorities cannot remove children from their parents’ care (unless this is with the parents’ consent) without first referring the matter to a court.
The decision to take a child into care is never an easy one. In every case where a child is taken into care on a care order, the courts will have considered all the evidence and taken the view that there is reasonable cause to believe that the child is suffering from, or is likely to suffer, significant harm. In every case concerning the upbringing of a child the court is required to treat the welfare of the child concerned as its paramount consideration.
To assist the court, a children’s guardian (who is independent of the local authority) is appointed to advise what is in the child’s best interests. Parents must also be legally represented, and may be entitled to legal aid.
Where the court makes an order placing a child in the care of a local authority, the authority will continue to work with the family with a view to the child returning home.
However, a stage may be reached when it is apparent that the child cannot return home. It is at this stage that the local authority must make alternative plans to provide the child with a permanent family home; adoption is only one way of providing this and is appropriate for some, though not all, children.
The final decision whether a child should be adopted rests with the courts, and before a court makes such an important decision it must always consider the whole range of powers available to it in the child’s case; and it must not make an adoption order unless it considers that making the order would be better for the child than not doing so.
The department is unable to say how many complaints have been addressed to it regarding the abuse of care proceedings.
The department does not investigate specific complaints as to do so would undermine the principle that the judiciary and the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service are independent.
If individuals are unhappy with how local authority social services have handled a case, they have the right to make a formal complaint under the ‘Local Authority Complaints Procedure’.
The authority must then consider the complaint, appointing at least one person independent of the local authority to take part in dealing with the issues raised, and provide a written response within 28 days.
If the complainant is not satisfied with the council’s response, they may request a Panel hearing by writing to the council within 28 days of the response. The Panel should be chaired by an independent person.
If they remain dissatisfied with how the council dealt with the complaint under the local procedures, they can refer their complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO).
The Local Government Ombudsman looks into complaints about councils, investigating complaints in a fair and independent way. More information on making a complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman .
If individuals wish to make a complaint against the judge in their case, they can contact The Office for Judicial Complaints.
The Family Justice Review is currently considering what changes are needed to improve the operation of the family justice system and deliver better outcomes for the children and families it serves.
Care proceedings and the accountability arrangements supporting them are part of the review’s deliberations. The Review is due to deliver its interim report this spring and its final report in the autumn.
Local Government Ombudsman Information on how to make complaints about councils and other authorities and organisations, including education admissions appeal panels and adult social care providers.
Office for Judicial complaints