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Local authority involvement in child abuse cases - where to start

This advice applies to England

The local authority might get involved with your family if they are concerned about child abuse. If there are serious concerns that a child is at risk of harm, they have a legal duty to get involved and investigate the situation. This page tells you more.

How does the local authority get involved in a child abuse case?

There are different ways that the local authority can get involved in a case. Here’s a list of possible people who might report concerns about a child to the local authority:

  • a member of the child’s family
  • the child themselves
  • a neighbour or friend
  • the child’s school
  • the child’s doctor
  • the police
  • a specialist organisation, like the NSPCC.

It’s possible for someone to report their concerns anonymously to the local authority. If they do this, the parent of the child, won’t know who reported the case.

What will the local authority do?

Social workers from the local authority should always try to work with the family to make sure you are all getting the help and support you need so the child can stay at home.

Within one working day of getting a report of concerns about child abuse, a local authority social worker should make a decision about what action is needed. They must all tell the person who has reported concerns what they will do.

If they decide that further action is needed, they will start investigations. The investigations should last no longer than 45 working days from the date when the concerns were reported. Depending on the needs of the child, and the level of any risk of harm faced by the child, the investigations may need to be done more quickly.

Once an investigation has been carried out, the social workers may decide that no further action is needed.  Or they could decide that further action is needed.  For example, they could decide:

  • they need to monitor the situation, and offer on-going support, or
  • to call a child protection conference.

A child protection conference is a meeting where different people involved in a child’s life, make a decision about whether the child is at risk of abuse and what should happens next. Usually the parents and professionals like the child’s social worker, doctor and teacher and the police would attend a child protection conference. They could:

  • make a child protection plan, which sets out the actions needed to protect the child
  • apply to court for a supervision order. This would mean that the social worker can play a role in the child’s life for a certain period, providing support and making sure the child is well cared for
  • apply to court for an emergency protection order to remove the child from where they are currently living
  • start court action to take the child into the care of social services

Even if the child protection conference decides that child abuse isn’t involved, it may be that the social workers decide that the child needs extra help to be able to have a reasonable standard of health or development. If so, the child is said to be a child in need, and the local authority has a legal duty to provide services needed to meet those needs.

What should you do if the local authority gets involved?

It’s best to work openly and honestly with the social workers if they get involved. This is because working closely with the local authority can often stop further action like court proceedings being taken, at the same time as protecting the child’s safety and well-being. Therefore, it’s usually advisable to engage with the social worker and other professionals who get involved. You should:

  • allow both announced and unannounced visits
  • make sure that you show you appreciate their concerns
  • show you’re addressing any concerns and putting things in place to make sure the child is safe and protected.

It may be that, as well as child abuse, there are other issues of concern to the social workers - for example, domestic violence, drug abuse, alcohol abuse or other family problems. It’s very important to try and get help and support with these issues. For example, if you and your child are not safe because of domestic abuse, get legal advice about your options. You might get legal aid. There are many organisations that can give support with alcohol and drug abuse.

If the local authority is involved and you’re accused of child abuse, you’ll need to get specialised legal advice, whether you’re accused rightly or wrongly. You might get legal aid.

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