Duncan Lewis

Family Law

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Can Social Services Intervene Where Parents Abuse Children?

Date: (22 September 2011)    |    

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Duncan Lewis:It is a fact of life that parents can cause their children some mild upset at times, and mutual low-level antagonism is all a part of the process of growing up. But when parents lose control the child can suffer serious harm, and the term ‘abuse’ is used in law to refer to this. The term ‘significant harm’ is cited in the 1989 Children Act in connection with legal boundaries having been overstepped, prompting the need for official intervention by Social Services.
Significant harm takes a range of forms, such as the dispensation of excessive punishment, shaking or hitting, constant rejection, sexual interference or neglect in any of its forms; the full list is available from any competent family solicitors.
It is usually the case that children suffer abuse not from strangers but from members of their immediate family, such as siblings and parents; friends of the family are also often guilty of abuse.
There are a number of indicators to look out for when there is a suspicion that children are being abused, and one or more of these may be picked up by neighbours and reported to Social Services, or noticed by social workers themselves during the course of visits to the family. These indicators include such things as lack of spontaneity, suspicion of adults, bullying, inability to concentrate, inability to make friends and truancy from school.
It can often prove difficult to detect abuse that has been going on for a relatively long period of time by an adult who is close to the abused child. Threats may have been made about the consequences of telling anyone about the abuse. In some cases, the child will think that it is because of them that the abuse happens in the first place, that they will be punished or teased should the abuse be divulged, or that they simply won’t be believed. The child may not wish the adult to be imprisoned or otherwise removed whilst at the same time wishing that the abuse would stop.
The Child Protections Advisor at the local Social Services can help if it is suspected that children are being abused. As the child must, as a first priority, be protected from continuing abuse the Social Services will step in to uncover the facts, determine if the abuse is likely to recur and decide what steps need to be taken to protect the child from further harm.
It may be that Social Services are satisfied that things have been sorted out, and in this case the child may remain with the parents as they are deemed fit to protect it. If Social Services are not satisfied that the child will not be harmed again in the future they will organise a conference which the parents and any professionals involved will attend, and a plan will be drawn up to ensure that abuse does not recur and that the family is helped. Solicitors such as Duncan Lewis will be appointed if a case goes to the criminal courts.