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Making enquiries into allegations of abuse or neglect

Coping with accusations of child abuse is a difficult experience for everybody concerned. These notes are to help you understand why Social Services need to be involved and how we go about finding the answers.

It is a fact: children do get abused. "Abuse" can mean physical attack, sexual interference, emotional abuse or neglect. None of us want to see these things happen to children.

Cheshire West and Chester Children's Social Care believes that children have a right to be protected from these things. When they have been abused or are at serious risk, children need all the help and support they can get to help them cope with what is happening, and to make sure they are safe from any harm in the future.

Sometimes, children themselves will complain about being badly treated or attacked, or perhaps teachers or neighbours will tell us when they think a child is being abused in some way. Quite often, it is the parents themselves, if this is necessary, or other relatives who report their concerns. The Police may also be informed and Social Services will talk to them about how this will be followed up.

When accusations are made

We have to check on every report we receive; we have to satisfy ourselves that children are not in danger. "That is the law".

If anyone is worried about what might be happening to a child, we want them to tell us. We will listen to what they have to say, and consider the information very carefully.

What we do next

We check our own records and as part of our enquiries, we talk to other professionals who may know something - such as Teachers, Health Visitors and the Police. We ask whether they know anything that can help explain the report we have had and we always record what they say.

We then visit the family involved. Usually, we like to see the whole family and in particular the children concerned.

We explain to the family what we have heard and ask them what they know. We talk to the adults and children concerned. We will always discuss things if people give us a chance. Naturally we make notes about what is said to make sure we get it right.

Children's Social Care staff may visit without an appointment, especially in serious situations where there is some urgency. In some serious cases, the Police may visit with the Social Worker. All workers carry Identity Cards and these should be examined carefully. If people are not satisfied about the identity of the visitors, they should check with the local Children's Social Care office, or the Police.

Social Workers will never insist on a child being undressed, or try to examine a child themselves. If any such examination is thought necessary, parents will be asked to take the child to their own Doctor or to a Clinic or Hospital.

Social Workers have no automatic "right of entry" into people's homes: we rely on the co-operation of the public. Most people understand how important it is for us to be thorough in finding out if anything bad is happening to children as quickly as possible.

Sometimes if people threaten us, or stop our enquiries, we have to ask the Police to help: after all, no one would expect us to simply walk away and leave children in possible danger.

The outcome

We have to be satisfied that children are safe from harm.

If the allegations or concerns are unfounded we will say so, and tell the children's parents.

If the concerns are found to be correct, the case is considered with other, more senior staff. We will discuss with parents what action may follow, or what changes need to be made to ensure the children are safe in the future.

We never seek to remove children from their families unless we feel a child is in real danger, and no better arrangements are possible.

Even where we are really worried about a particular case and feel that a child is in danger of abuse, we would have to explain the circumstances to a Magistrate or to a Court and ask for a Legal Order which would allow us to take the child to a safe place whilst more information is obtained.

Afterwards

We investigate each situation as sensitively as we can. However, because of the nature of what we sometimes have to discuss, people can become upset and distressed.

We hope that all those involved will understand that we have to be thorough to make sure children are protected.

It helps us if you tell us how you have been treated, whether you are happy or unhappy.

If you are unhappy about any aspect of our work or the way in which you have been treated, you have the right to take action through the Complaints and Representations Procedure. Details are available from your Social Worker or from the Children's Contact and Referral team.