In what circumstances are social services more likely to become involved?
- When a medical practitioner raises a concern that an observed injury is not accounted for by the explanation given and could be an injury of abuse.
- When the child themselves gives an account of abuse or physical chastisement to explain the bruise.
- When over time a number of different injuries have been seen on the child, none of which on their own are suspicious but the parent is unable to account for the various injuries and there is a concern about the supervision that is being provided to the child.
- Bruising on young babies who are not yet mobile are more likely to attract attention
What happens if social services become involved?
The local authority will commence an investigation under section 47 Children Act 1989. The investigation will either be with the police or as a single agency investigation by social services only. As part of that investigation you should be given an opportunity to say what you believe caused your child’s bruising.
If the police are involved it is likely that the parent will be invited to a formal police interview. In this situation it is always advised that you should seek advice from a solicitor whilst at the police station even if you feel you have nothing to hide and are happy to speak to the police. Free legal advice is available from a duty solicitor or from any criminal solicitor who you chose to represent you. What you say in a police interview can later be used as evidence against you and the solicitor will be able to advise whether in the specific circumstances you find yourself in you should exercise your right to silence at this stage.
In the meantime, if your child has not already been seen by a doctor it is likely social services will ask you to agree to your child undergoing a child protection medical. The social worker will usually accompany you to a medical examination with the community paediatrician. The doctor will ask about your child’s medical history, how you believe the injury occurred and should ask about whether you have any family history of blood disorders or easy bruising. The doctor will also ask your child why they think they have the bruise if the child is old enough to give an account.
If the police are involved and the medical practitioner raises a concern about the injury it is also possible that the police will interview your child. This is undertaken at the police station in a room that is video recorded with a police officer who is specially trained. The child’s interview is called an ABE interview, meaning Achieving Best Evidence.
The social workers are also likely to make their own enquiries and may speak to you about how they can ensure that your child is safe whilst the investigation process continues. If you are asked to consent to your child being placed with a family member or in care, even on a temporary basis, you should seek legal advice. Hanne & Co’s Childcare Department consists of 9 specialist solicitors who are all able to advise you upon social services involvement with your children.
Having completed the initial investigation and if there are still concerns social services may then take any of the following steps:
- Invite you to a child protection case conference at which a decision will be made whether your child should be made subject to a child protection plan.
- Make a court application for an interim care order or an emergency protection order. Parents are entitled to free legal advice throughout any court proceedings at which the local authority seeks a care order, emergency protection order or supervision order. Please contact Hanne & Co’s child care department who specialise in representing you throughout such court proceedings.
Your solicitor will advise you whether the local authority is able to prove the interim threshold for starting care proceedings is met. The local authority has to satisfy the court that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm; and that the harm, or likelihood of harm, is attributable to the care given to the child, or likely to be given to him, if the order were not made, not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give to him or her.
In Re C (Permission to withdraw: Medical evidence: Interim threshold not crossed)  EWFC B37 the court had to consider whether the interim threshold was met in a situation in which a mother had herself reported to her doctor a number of marks that had appeared on her child’s face. The court found in this case that the interim threshold was not met and therefore the local authority withdrew the care proceedings. In this case the doctors who had seen the child at various times with different markings on her face had drawn their conclusions from examining only photographs shown to them of the child by the child’s mother. The court could not be satisfied on the balance of probabilities that the parents were responsible for the marks seen or that the marks were even bruising.
In a recent case undertaken by Hanne & Co’s child care department, the team represented a father in care proceedings. His son had indicated to a teacher at school that he had been physically chastised by his parents. Upon viewing the ABE interview undertaken of the child it became apparent that the child had given inconsistent accounts of how he got the bruises and that the police had not properly conducted the ABE interview in accordance with the code of conduct set out in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Again, this is a case in which the local authority withdrew the proceedings on the basis that it could not satisfy the court on the balance of probabilities that the threshold criteria were met.
What both of these cases demonstrate is that getting specialist legal advice is essential from the outset of social services involvement with your family. Your solicitor can assist you to identify whether the evidence against you is of sufficient quality right from the outset of tho have the case discharged or withdrawn if it would be appropriate to do so.