Legal Eagle: When Social Services fear your children are at risk

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Social Services has been involved with my family for over a year now. My children are on Child Protection Plans due to the risk of harm from my ex-partner.

I have recently got back with my ex and Social Services are saying that he is a risk to my children and that they are going to remove them from my care. Can they do this?

Generally, if the local authority has significant concerns about the safety and well-being of a child, a Child Protection Plan will be drawn up in order to identify how the child can be kept safe.
If the concerns which the local authority have are so significant that a Child Protection Plan won’t keep the child safe, there are several options which the local authority have to safeguard the child.
In the first instance, the local authority may write to you and inform you that due to the significance of the concerns which they have for your children, they are thinking about issuing Care Proceedings, however, their aim is to work with you and your family in order to avoid going to Court.
At this stage, you would be encouraged to seek legal advice before attending a meeting which you will be invited to.
If the local authority is concerned about the imminent safety of your children, they may ask you to sign a Section 20 Agreement.
By signing this you would be providing your consent for your children to reside in a temporary placement outside of your care whilst the local authority carry out further assessments.
This may be a family placement or local authority foster care placement.
A Section 20 Agreement is a voluntary agreement and you can withdraw your consent at any time.
The local authority has guidelines which it must follow when obtaining your consent to Section 20, so it is important that you inform your legal representative how your Section 20 consent was obtained and seek legal advice before doing so.
If you refuse to sign the Section 20 Agreement and the concerns that the local authority has for your children are so significant that it cannot remain in your care, the police may use their Powers of Protection in an emergency to remove your children from your care.
They can only do this for up to 72 hours before the local authority would have to either return your children to your care or make an application to the Court to start care proceedings. 
If the local authority issue care proceedings, you should seek immediate legal representation.
Ben Hoare Bell LLP has several specialist family solicitors who can assist with issues such as the above. To speak to a solicitor, phone 0191 565 3112 or email advice@benhoarebell.co.uk. Visit www.benhoarebell.co.uk for more information.