If you use drugs, including some prescribed medicines, and care for a child/children you might attract the attention of Social Services if they are worried that the child is at risk because of your drug use.
Someone might contact Social Services to report their concerns, including a doctor or school teacher, or you might already be known to them.
Social Services will usually do a basic assessment to decide if there should be a more detailed investigation. It is their job to assess whether your child is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm because of the standard of care you provide, the local authority may seek to intervene under the Children Act 1989. Harm is defined as ill treatment or the impairment of health or development, including, for example, impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill treatment of another (Section 31(9) of the Children Act 1989, as amended by the Adoption and Children Act 2002).
The local authority can take a number of steps, including conducting a child protection conference. It is very important to attend a child protection conference as it is your opportunity to answer any concerns that the professionals and others involved with your child may have. You are entitled to be assisted by a legal advisor.
Your child may be put on the Child Protection Register, sometimes called the ‘at risk register’, and the situation will be monitored and reviewed. You will probably be asked to do certain things during this time to allay Social Services’ worries.
Sometimes parents are asked to agree that someone else will look after the child. This might be a family member, but is often a foster carer. Social Services will be keen to see that you understand their concerns about your child, and agreeing to someone else looking after them (even for a short time) is one way of showing this. If you don’t work with them they might threaten to start court action.
Although you should cooperate as much as possible you should not feel bullied into agreeing to do something you are not happy with. You should speak to a lawyer if Social Services say they are thinking about going to court. Legal aid funding is available for people who need advice and representation at court but have low incomes.
One of the things you might be asked to do by Social Services, or ordered by the Court, is to get some professional help around your drug use. If you are already going to a drug service they might be asked to write a report on you. You could even be asked to have regular or random drug tests to prove that you have not taken any illegal drugs, if you are not already doing this.
If the local authority decide to go to court they may apply for a Care or Supervision Order. You will normally be given notice of such proceedings or the intention to apply for them. However, in emergency circumstances the local authority may apply without notice.
In any of the above circumstances, you should immediately seek legal advice. The Law Society runs a helpline that can provide you with details of local solicitors who specialise in childcare law. If you would like more advice on this please call the Release helpline or email us.
Contact & Residence Orders
If your relationship has ended you might disagree with your ex-partner about contact arrangements or who should be responsible for the care of your child/children. If you can, you should try to deal with these issues between the two of you as politely as possible. Where this is not possible you may want to try and seek family mediation. This involves an independent mediator working with both parents to agree a ‘parenting plan’ for their children in light of the separation or divorce. To find a local mediation service contact National Family Mediation. If an agreement cannot be reached you may have no choice but to ask a lawyer for help. You might want a court to make a regular, fixed contact arrangement or ask them for shared or sole care of your child/children.