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Guide to the child protection system

What is a child protection enquiry?

A child protection enquiry has to be started if someone believes your child may be being harmed or is at risk of being harmed. The local council must by law make enquiries in these situations. A social worker will talk to all professionals who know your child and family. This may include teachers, health visitors, doctors or any other professional involved with the family. If the concern is that your child has been abused or a crime has occurred then the police will also be involved.

A social worker will talk to you about what you believe to have happened and why there are concerns about your child. You will be asked your views on what has happened. If your child is believed to have an injury or to have been sexually abused, the social worker and the police may want a medical examination to take place.This will help find out how your child was hurt and make sure they receive medical help. If your child is old enough the social worker will want to talk to them to hear their views and feelings about what has happened, and if a crime is thought to have been committed the police may want to record the interview using a video.

What happens after a child protection enquiry?

The law says that those working with families must try to help children and their families stay together wherever possible. However, the law also says that children must be kept safe.

In most circumstances parents are helped to look after their child safely and the child remains at home. Occasionally the risk of a child being hurt is too great and it may be necessary to find somewhere else for the child to stay, if possible with another family member. Alternatively, the person who may hurt the child could be asked to leave the family home. If a child cannot remain at home then it may be necessary to apply to court for an order to remove the child so that the child can go to a foster carer or a residential home. At this point you would be advised to contact a solicitor to advise you. If a child is thought to be at risk but this can be managed by the child remaining at home a child protection conference may be called.

What is a child protection conference?

A child protection conference is a meeting to talk about a child who may have been harmed or is at risk of being harmed. This meeting could involve teachers, doctors, health visitors, school nurses, police, probation officers and social workers. As parents or carers you would also be invited and supported to attend and if your child is old enough to understand the process they may also attend. If you have any speech or hearing difficulties or if you need an interpreter arrangements will be made to support you so that you can fully participate in the conference. The chairperson will meet with you before the conference starts. They will talk to you about what will happen and answer any questions you might have.

At the meeting reports from professionals involved with your family will be read and discussed, and information will be shared about the concerns for your child. Professionals at the meeting will decide whether they believe your child is at risk of harm. You will be asked for your views and the views of your child, where old enough, will also be heard at the conference.

If it is decided that your child is at risk of harm the meeting will discuss how best your child can be protected and what can be done to support your child and your family. This will then become the child protection plan.

What is a child protection plan?

The purpose of a child protection plan is to ensure that everyone is clear what help and support will be provided, by whom and when. This will include expectations of you as parent and carers to work with the professionals, participate in the plan, and make any changes and improvements so that your child is safe and well cared for. Your child's health, development and general welfare will be regularly checked. The plan will be reviewed after three months and then at six monthly intervals. The child protection plan will remain in place until it is believed that your child is no longer at risk of harm.