A major cause for social services’ intervention in a family’s life are cases of suspected child abuse. Social Services child abuse cases are the most high-profile of all the cases they address because of the consequences when they get it wrong.
Social services adjudicate a child to be in need where they are found to be suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm.
When Can the Local Authority Intervene in Suspected Child Abuse?
The Children Act 1989 introduced the concept of significant harm as the threshold that, once met, justifies compulsory intervention in family life in the best interests of the child. It is this threshold that gives local authorities a duty to make enquiries to decide whether they should take action to safeguard or promote the welfare of a child who is suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm.
Unfortunately the criteria for what constitutes significant harm are vague and have not been concretely laid down. Whether the harm is judged to be “significant” and an appraisal of the severity of ill-treatment may include the degree and the extent of physical harm, the duration and frequency of abuse and neglect, the extent of premeditation, and the presence or degree of threat, coercion, sadism and bizarre or unusual elements.
“I had two previous
solicitors, neither of
whom fought for me;
but Brendan did. Firstly,
he believed in me when
other solicitors didn’t;
but secondly, he fought
so hard on my behalf. He
looked into my case and
spotted vital things that
the experts had missed.
He fought with sheer hard
work and determination.”Our client, Miss A.
Experience has shown that these elements are the ones associated with more severe effects on the child, and the relatively greater difficulty in helping the child recover from the adverse impact of the abuse.
Sometimes, a single event may be sufficiently traumatic to constitute significant harm in itself – for instance a violent assault, suffocation or poisoning. More usually, significant harm is a accumulation of significant events – acute and longstanding – which over time have the cumulative effect of interrupting, changing or damaging the child’s physical and psychological development.
In some instances, it is not a matter of overt abuse that has led to the harm; but a simple neglect of their health and development as a result of poor family and social circumstances.
It is the long-term neglect, emotional, physical or sexual abuse that causes impairment to the extent of constituting significant harm.
There are indicators often present where abuse or neglect is occurring. That they are manifested within a family does not prove that abuse has occurred, but:
“I know I have a
fight in front of
me but now I know
I have someone in
my corner who
believes in me,
which makes all
the difference.”Our client, Ms B.
- Must be regarded as indicators of the possibility of significant harm;
- Indicates a need for careful assessment and discussion with the agency’s nominated child protection lead;
- May require consultation with and/or referral to the local authority children’s social care and/or the police.
Conversely, their absence does not mean that abuse or neglect has not occurred.
Indicators in the child may include:
- Appearing frightened of the parent;
- Acting in a way that is inappropriate to their age and development.
Indicators in the parent include:
- Avoidance of routine child health services and/or treatment when the child is ill;
- Having unrealistic expectations of the child;
- Complaints about/to the child and failure to provide attention or praise;
- Being absent or leaving the child with inappropriate carers;
- Suffering mental health problems which they do not appear to be managing;
- Abuse of substances;
- Persistent refusal to allow access on home visits;
- Persistent avoidance of contact with services or delay to the start or continuation of treatment;
- Involvement in domestic abuse;
- Failure to ensure the child receives an appropriate education.
Brendan Fleming Solicitors are nationally recognized as a leading choice in the area of care work. We are justifiably proud of our expertise and our success rate. We are contracted to the Legal Services Commission for this type of work and are considered to be one of the leading national firms for publicly funded services.
Our principal, Brendan Fleming, has won a reputation for his innovative approach, spearheading many new ways of securing justice for families caught in the care proceedings trap. He is a member of a select children’s panel and recognized and approved by the Law Society.
If you are fighting social services for your child and need a Care Proceedings Solicitor to help you, contact Brendan Fleming today.