Social Work Law
This assignment involves a case study where Ralph, a fourteen year old boy, is currently in foster care because his mother; Kerry, felt she was unable to control him due to his behaviour.However, Kerry has now expressed that she is unhappy with this foster placement and has requested that her son be returned to live with her and his two younger brothers.The scenario becomes more complex owing to the fact that Ralph has disclosed that his mother had regularly hit him with a walking stick.
In this essay I will seek to consider the main practice issues raised by the scenario of the case study.
Using the materials provided within the course along with my own professional experience, I will outline relevant legislation whilst demonstrating the significance it has on the assessment and any subsequent intervention that may be required in the given situation Section 1 of the Children Act 1989 clearly states; ‘When a court determines any question with respect to – (a) the upbringing or a child; or (b) the administration of a child’s property or the application of any income arising from it, the child’s welfare shall be the court’s paramount consideration. s. 1(1)] This reflects the social work professional’s prime concern. Bearing this in mind, as the social worker involved in this case study, I would initially want to identify whether any of the children involved were at imminent risk of significant harm. The support and protection of children cannot be achieved by a single agency. … Every service has to play its part. All staff must have placed upon them the clear expectation that there primary responsibility is to the child and his or her family. (DH and Home Office, 2003, paras 17. 92-17. 93)
The Children Act 2004 obliges all agencies that come into contact working with children must share information and work together to safeguard the welfare of children. My primary task would be to arrange a safeguarding strategy meeting. This would facilitate the sharing of information between professionals whilst also determining the most appropriate course of action to take next. Those attending the meeting would include; the area Child Protection Officer, an education professional (such as the appointed Child Protection teacher), the police, a health professional (such as the school nurse) and the social worker.
Other agencies may also be asked to attend such as the youth offending team or CAMHS (Children and adolescent mental health service). At the meeting, the professionals will discuss the best response to the allegations and the extent of risk that is posed towards the three children involved. There are several different options that can be decided. After careful consideration and agreement, it might be the general consensus that no further action is needed and the case will be subsequently dropped.
However with this case study there is an allegation of physical abuse which would suggest the family would be in need of some kind of assistance, thus Ralph may be recognised as a child in need. Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 states a child is in need if he/she is unlikely to achieve or maintain a reasonable standard of health or development. [s. 17 (a)]. Ralph has not been attending school regularly. Subsequently this will lead to him falling behind and not developing educationally. Ralph has also started to drink alcohol and has also taken to staying out late, on one occasion not returning home until the following day.
This behaviour obviously poses a risk to his health; nevertheless, it could also lead to a risk of significant harm. The threshold to identify when a need becomes a risk can vary depending on the professional making that assessment. Choosing to bring professionals together to a strategy meeting will ensure that the threshold is one that is safe and appropriate. The allegation from Ralph about his mother hitting him with a stick which was hard enough to cause severe bruising is without doubt a concerning factor. The strategy meeting would need to assess whether Ralph and/or his siblings were children in need (s 17) or whether there were rounds for a child protection enquiry. The Children Act 1989, section 47 states that the Local Authority must investigate if it has ‘reasonable cause‘ to suspect that a child is suffering significant harm. This is also known as a section 47 enquiry. Ralph says he has been the victim of physical abuse and that this was a reoccurring act. As a social worker I would have to investigate this further. The questions I would want to find answers to would include; Are Ralph’s siblings at risk from experiencing similar physical abuse? Is Ralph at risk of suffering from physical abuse if he returns home to his mother?
I would also want to look further into the causes behind Ralph’s truancy and why he has started to engage in anti-social behaviour. Could this be a result of a breakdown in his relationship with his mother? Or are there problems with the home environment? When Ralph disclosed that his mother hit him with a stick, he said that he did not want anyone else to know. With this we encounter a conflict of what Ralph wishes and the professional duty of the worker. When working with young people it is important to make sure that they are aware of and understand the agency’s confidentiality policy.
As a social worker I would explain to Ralph, within his level of understanding, that I will have to record some of the information he shares with me. However if he shares information that suggests that himself or someone else could be at risk of harm then this information will have to be shared appropriately and if required acted upon. As the social worker involved with this case, I would want to carry out an assessment before Ralph returns home to his Mother. However, Ralph is in foster care voluntarily which means that his mother can return him home as she wishes.
Under section 20 of the Children Act 1989, any person who has parental responsibility for a child may at any time remove the child from accommodation provided by or on behalf of the Local Authority under this section [s.20 (8) ]. Nonetheless, section 20 would be the most desirable option as it would be the least oppressive way to accommodate the young person while the assessment takes place. This would require cooperation from Kerry, Ralph’s mother. I would visit Kerry and try to explain the situation and the concerns that I and the other professionals had. This is likely to have a evastating impact on Kerry so this must be done in a sensitive way. The local authority is under obligation to work in partnership with the families of children in need or at risk. Sections 22 and 61 of the Children Act 1989 require local authorities and voluntary organisations to consult, where reasonably possible, with the child and the parents before making any decision in relation to the child (Block 3, p103). Before considering keeping Ralph in foster care, I would want to explore other options of residence. The case study does not mention Ralph’s birth father or whether he currently has a relationship with him.
This would need to be investigated. There may also be other relatives who might be in a position to look after Ralph, for example; the possibility of living with Grandparent’s, Aunt’s and Uncle’s would be worth exploring. It may also be necessary to accommodate George and Dan while the assessment takes place. However, unlike Ralph, they appear to have a relationship with their father, Sam. Sam will have joint parental responsibility for George and Dan but as he is not the birth father for Ralph, he will not automatically have parental responsibility for him.
However, he may obtain parental responsibility by obtaining an order from the court, or through a formal parental responsibility agreement with Kerry. Alternatively, Sam could apply for a residence order which settles the arrangements to be made as to the person with whom a child lives. There are two categories of applicant, those who can apply ‘as of right’ and those who require ‘leave of court’ (CA 1989, s. 8). As Ralph lived with his mother and Sam for six years, Sam could apply as of right. With all this said, a further initial assessment would need to be done on Sam prior to Ralph taking up residence with his step-father.
Furthermore, it is very unlikely that Ralph would want to live with Sam, given his feelings that are stated in the case study. As with the parents being included in decision making in relation to the child, so must the child himself. As previously mentioned, the less oppressive option would be for Ralph to stay with a family member or to keep Ralph in his foster placement voluntarily. This would need to be with agreement from Kerry. However, in the event of Kerry not agreeing, there are other less favourable options to consider.
The local authority may apply to the court for a section 31 or section 38 orders under the Children Act 1989. A section 31 court order can be given on the grounds that the child involved is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm due to the care being given to him, or likely to be given to him, or the child being beyond parental control [s. 31(2)]. In Ralph’s case I feel if a court order was required to accommodate him, a Section 38 would be more appropriate. An Interim care order (S. 38) granted by the court will give the local authority a period of time, for up to eight weeks, to investigate the child’s circumstances [s. 8(4) and (5)]. This would allow time to carry out an assessment on the needs of the family to identify if it is safe for Ralph to return home and to assess if there are any services that the family require to assist with the breakdown of the relationship. Before issuing a section 31 or 38 court order, the court must take into account some factors. Taking the child’s welfare as the paramount consideration, there should be a presumption that there is no order unless making one would be better for the child. This is also known as the ‘no order principle’.
Both of these court orders also require a welfare checklist. The welfare checklist considers a range of factors before discharging an order including: The wishes of the child; any physical, emotional and educational needs; age, sex and any other characteristics that may be relevant; any harm suffered or at risk of suffering and the capability of the parents at meeting the child’s needs [ACA 2002, s1 (40)]. As a social worker I will be striving to achieve the best possible outcomes for the children I work with.
The white paper, Every Child Matters identifies five areas of outcome: be health; stay safe; enjoy and achieve, make a positive contribution and achieve economic wellbeing. (DfES, 2004) To summarise my hypothetical involvement with this case study, as a social work professional working within social work legislation I would firstly take the welfare of the child or children as my primary consideration. When assessing the circumstances of the family and intervening in such a case, I would do so in a way that was anti-oppressive, which would mean using the least intrusive means of power available.
It would require me to be non-judgemental, treating each individual with respect in line with article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights. I would ensure to work in a professional manner at all times, abiding by the GSCC code of practice (Codes of Practice, 2002). I would work closely with professionals, sharing information to those who need to know only. I would strive to achieve the best possible of the five outcomes for children and young people I would always adhere to lawful policies whilst continually reflecting and evaluating my own practice.