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What to Expect When Your Child Is Involved In A Child Protection Investigation

Child Protection Investigations

Being involved in any Child Protection Investigation can be very stressful, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and confused.  The aim of any investigation is to understand what exactly has happened to a child where there is a concern that they may be in need of protection and are possibly victims of abuse. The purpose is to reduce any risk that there might be around for the child, to help keep them safe and offer the child and family supports that might be needed to achieve this. 

Who Decides If A Child Protection Investigation Is Needed?

The decision to start a child protection investigation is made by a number of agencies working together to understand you and your child's situation. Concerns can be identified in a number of ways, a parent might identify that they are struggling and ask for help, a child might tell someone that they have been hurt or harmed, a neighbour or member of the public might see something that concerns them and tell someone, or a teacher, health worker or other professional might notice that something doesn't seem right with your child.

Once a concern is identified there will be a meeting, called an Inter-Agency Referral Discussion (IRD) , with social work, the police, education and health to gather information and try to understand what has come to their attention, and decide what to do next. They might decide that there is no action needed, in which case they won't contact you or discuss things further and their file will be closed. They may decide that they need more information because they are concerned that your child isn't safe and will start a child protection investigation.

At this stage, if you aren't already aware that there are concerns about your child, social work will in most circumstances contact you and explain the concerns they have and what happens next in the investigation. In very rarer circumstances where it thought that making paretns aware before the child has been seen may put the child in danger, you will only be told once the child is considered safe.

Who Is Involved In A Child Protection Investigation?

If there is a need for a child protection investigation, professionals who know you and/or your child will be asked to provide information. Each professional agency has different roles and responsibilities during the child protection investigation and these are explained below.

Social Work

Social Workers have a duty to investigate any alleged incident of child abuse or any situation where it is thought that a child or young person might be at risk of significant harm. A social workers will,  with Police interview the child if the IRD had decided this was necessary. This is called a Joint Investigative Interview. The social worker and Police officer will have undergone specialist training in this type of interview. Social Workers also have a role  to assess the risk to the child and their need for protection. Social Work will work closely with the child and their family to gain an understanding of the situation and to ensure the right agencies are involved to provide support.

Police

The Police have a duty to investigate any alleged offence and they work closely with Social Workers when there has been suspected child abuse.  A Police Officer  will with a social worker  interview the child if the IRD had decided this was necessary. This is called a Joint Investigative Interview. The social worker and Police officer will have undergone specialist training in this type of interview  As part of an investigation the Police may  interview other witnesses and the person alleged to be causing harm, and will share relevant information with other agencies to contribute towards an overall assessment of the child's safety and wellbeing.

Health

There are lots of different health staff who might be involved in a child protection investigation depending on the concerns and the age of the child. For example, a Health Visitor, School Nurse, GP or specialist health provider (like Speech & Language Therapist) may be asked to contribute to an assessment of risk or to provide medical care for children or adults who care for them.  In some circumstances the child may undergo a detailed medical examination. This will be undertaken by paediatrician, and  possibly a police forensic examiner.

Education

Education staff may be involved in identifying and reporting concerns about children, and will also have a role to play in identifying additional educational supports that the child might need. Teachers and school staff may also have some involvement in monitoring the progress of children who are subject to a child protection plan.

Other Services / Voluntary Agencies

There are many organisations that can provide care and support to children and their families. It may be that a child or parent needs some therapeutic support, help with understanding parenting roles, support with mental health or substance misuse etc. Agencies involved in supporting the family might be asked to contribute to a child protection investigation and may also share information if they have concerns about a child's welfare.

Where Will My Child Live During An Investigation? 

Usually your child will continue to live with you and you will continue to care for them while there is a child protection investigation being carried out.

Occasionally it might be best for your child to be cared for by a relative or for them to be looked after away from home. If this is the case, you will usually be asked to give permission for your child to stay somewhere else while the investigation is undertaken.

If there are concerns that your child isn't currently safe and that their living circumstances can't be made safe enough for them to stay with you, Social Workers will apply for a Child Protection Order which allows them to remove your child to a place of safety. This is done in exceptional circumstances, where agencies believe it is the best way to keep a child safe.

The application for a Child Protection Order is made to the Sheriff Court. The Order might also have conditions attached to it, for example that your child can't have contact with a particular person or that they receive a medical assessment. Obtaining a Child Protection Order is a complex, legal process and if someone has made an application in respect of your child, you should seek legal advice. Depending on your circumstances, legal aid might be available to you.

In an emergency situation, where there are concerns that your child is immediately in danger and that the situation can't be made safe enough quickly enough, the police have the power to remove your child from home and take them to a place of safety. This will only happen if the concerns about your child's safety are so urgent that there isn't time to go to the Sheriff for a Child Protection Order.

There are other Emergency Orders that can be requested in respect of your child, for example to have someone removed from the home where a child lives (Exclusion Order) or that workers are given access to your child to complete an assessment of their safety, health and wellbeing (Assessment Order). If any order is being sought for your child, your social worker should explain the reasons for this and you are entitled to legal advice and representation throughout the process. The Scottish Child Law Centre (link to their website) can provide free advice to children, young people and their parents and carers.

I've Been Invited To A Child Protection Case Conference, What Happens Next? 

If there are concerns that your child might have been harmed or be at risk of harm in the future, you may be invited to a Child Protection Case Conference. This is a meeting to talk through the concerns and to decide how best to keep your child safe and well. You will  be invited to attend and depending on your child's age, they might be invited to attend all or part of the meeting too. If they don't come to the meeting someone will speak to them beforehand in case there is anything they want people at the meeting to know. Your child should have a Buddy who can help them explain their views to the meeting or using the child words, share their views. You are entitled to bring someone with you to the meeting to support you, like a friend, family member

The case conference meeting will include people who know you and/or your child and will include:- Nursery or School Staff,  Health Visitor or school nurse,  Social Worker, GP, Police,  and others who may be working closely with you or your child.The people who attend will usually provide a written report about what they know of you and your family. You will be given a copy of the all reports before the meeting and should have the chance to discuss what is being said in the reports with the person writing them. This gives you a chance to check that the information about you are your family is factually correct, and to express your thoughts about the report.  The reports won’t necessarily be changed if you just don’t agree or like what is being said and any disagreements can be discussed in the case conference. 

At the meeting, there will be a full discussion about the reasons why there has been a child protection investigation, and what was found. There will be an opportunity for everyone to ask questions and the Chair of the meeting will make sure everyone has a chance to speak  The Chair of the meeting will ask the professionals in the room to share any concerns and known strengths in the family. You wil be given the chance to make comments or ask questions after each professionals contibution.   You will be given the chance to share your opinion about what has been happening. This can feel quite difficult to do and it might help you to really think about what you want to say. You might want to write something either to read out loud yourself, or to remind you of the things that feel important to say, or to give to someone else at the meeting to read for you. If you are finding it hard to think about what you want to say, you could ask a family member, friend to help you - or talk to your Social Worker as its part of their job to make sure your views are heard.

At the end of the confernece a decision will be made about the need, or not for your child nmame to be placed on the Child Protection Register. Iif the professionals don't all agree, the Chair will decide on what they think the best outcome should be. If you don't agree with the decision that has been made, you can ask the Chair to record that you aren't in agreement. After the meeting you'll be sent a note of the decisions that were made and a copy of the Minute of Meeting, which is simply a record of who said what at the meeting.

The Case Conference Said My Child's Name Would Go On The Child Protection Register, What Does That Mean?

The Child Protection Register is a list that the local authority keeps of children who need a Child Protection Plan. The Register will contain details of your child, like their name, date of birth, and address along with a bit of information about why the Child Protection Plan is needed, known as areas for concern.

Can I Appeal The Decision That Has Been Made?

If you or your child believe that a case conference reached a decision based on flawed process and/or practice you can request that the decision is reviewed.

The only reasons for which a review can be considered are:

a) The case conference failed to take proper account of all the information available to it, or was unable to because professionals did not make the information available to the conference. ( Note – the failure, by any professional, to present relevant information to the case conference is a matter for the agency concerned and could be dealt with under its complaints procedures.)

b) The case conference obviously misled itself in terms of the understanding of, or meaning given, to the body of information considered.

c) The case conference arrived at a decision in respect of child protection registration that cannot be supported by the information shared and assessed at the meeting.

The fact that a family member disagrees with the decision about registration is not, in itself, a reason for a Review to be conducted

The only ground for dispute upon which a review shall base a decision is:

•        Placing a child’s name on the child protection register

•        Not removing a child’s name from the child protection register

•        Removing a child’s name from the child protection register.

.Requesting a review

A review request must be lodged with the Lead Officer Protecting People, within 14 days of the Case Conference. The decision of the Case Conference will stand during the review process and until that is changed by a further case conference.

The review request must be in writing. A family member can prepare the written request or can ask the Lead Professional or another person to make a note of what they wish to say. The written request should include evidence that supports the reason(s) for the appeal– a, b, or c, above. In other words, state what procedures were not followed, what information it failed to take account of, or what misunderstanding there might have been of information shared.

The Review of a Decision

The review shall be carried out as soon as possible, and no later than 28 days, after the request is submitted. It shall be carried out by a panel comprising the Lead officer Protecting People accompanied by a member of the Child Protection Committee.

The decision of this review panel will be final.

What Is A Child Protection Plan? 

A Child Protection Plan is a plan first drawn up by professionals, in conjunction with you, at a Child Protection Case Conference. What this means is that all of the agencies involved in you or your child's life will think about the kind of support you both might need for your child to grow and develop safely.  A Child Protection plan will detail what needs to change and who is expected to do what and when. All Child Protection plans will be regularly reviewed.  The group deciding on the Plan is called a Core Group and wil include you and professionals working with your child and family.

The purpose of the plan is to help you look after your child safely and to help them grow and develop. If there are parts of the plan you don't agree with you should speak up at the Core Group so that they can understand why you don't agree and whether there is another option that might work better for you and your child. If you dont feel able to speak out in the group  it is important to talk to your Social Worker about them as quickly as possible to allow them to consider your views and then sahre these with the rest of the group.

The Child Protection Plan is reviewed anf progress and concerns will be noted. The plan will include what actions will nbe taken if progrees in not being made or maintained in the agreed times.  A Review Case Conference  will be held after three months to see whether the plan is working and whether your child's name can be removed from the Child Protection Register. This meeting should work in the same way as the Initial Case Conference, and again you will receive a copy of the decisions made at the meeting, a copy of the minute of meeting and you have the same right to complain or appeal the decisions made. There wil still be a childs plan in place for a firther three months to make sure any supports to you and the family are in place and that the progress achived is maintained  If your childs name is kept on the Register there will be a Child Protection Plan as before and  further Review Conference in six months.