Child Protection and the Family Courts: What you Need to Know, Andrew McFarlane, Madeleine Riordan and Alexander Lang (Pub: Bloomsbury Professional Family Law) Buy on Amazon
Reviewed by Andrew Hall, specialist safeguarding consultant.
Working with vulnerable children brings Designated Safeguarding Leads in schools into contact with other professionals, including lawyers, the police and social care. It’s not always easy to find out what the legal position is in child protection or to be able to find out what all the jargon is, what the legal rules are, and what the different laws and acts are.
Although an online search can help in locating a really good website or a helpful blog post, sometimes really definitive information is needed and for that we need to turn to better reference sources than the uncurated internet. This book is all about child protection legislation and practice is written by senior lawyers working within the Family Court and is a really good way to start to find out why the legal position matters.
The description on the back of Child Protection and the Family Courts says, “Child protection made simple, the plain-speaking guide for all those concerned with the protection of children.” As a starting point that is a really laudable aim, but one of the challenges of explaining complex ideas to people who haven’t had years of experience in the profession being explained, is that it can still be pitched at too high a level.
What the authors have tried to do here is to be straightforward and talk about what the implications of the different elements of law are, but unless you are a lawyer, in places I’m not sure it does explain it clearly enough. Many people in schools, designated safeguarding leads, or head teachers may only come across needing to know some of this language very rarely. I think the really helpful part of this book is providing a clear place as a reference so that you know where to go when you need it.
The book is essentially in two parts. Most of the main information is in the first part of the book. The second part of the book is made up of several appendices some of which reprint the legal acts, for example, the Children Act 1989, which is the basis of much of the child protection legislation. Whilst that’s useful, it is the first section of book I think is most significant, especially looking at it from the perspective of designated safeguarding leads in schools or head teachers.
Throughout the book there are some really helpful charts which help explain things that you may have never have had properly explained before. The book has box-outs that may include a fact, an aside or a brief summary of a case study. One example says, “Parental decisions and older children: the older the child is, the more important his or her wishes are. A parent’s right starts with the right of control, then as a child is older ends with little more than advice.”
Charts are supplemented by diagrams and flow charts, one helps to decide with a young person is in a private fostering arrangement.
A useful section sets out the role of the local authority and what they need to do to provide services. The chapter explains the definition of safeguarding and explains what that means. Safeguarding is for all children, not simply child protection services, and specifically identified are children with special educational needs and disabilities, and importantly, young carers.
Another helpful section helps the reader understand the different kinds of Accommodation for looked after children, where they could be placed, and the legal basis for choosing them.
Not every chapter will be useful for all DSLs, but many of the sections are and chapter five is one of them. This chapter starts with the initial referral, right the way through to child safety orders and parenting orders. This section covers the different types of referrals and investigations. Many new DSLs are sent off to ‘case conferences’, but don’t always know what the legal basis of different types of meetings is.
One of the challenges for schools is knowing what parental contact there can be, while different stages of the child protection process are in place. Chapter eight discusses the different legal status that a child may have through adoption, special guardianship orders, and another child protection arrangements.
Chapter 11 is about challenging the local authority. A clear chart shows all the different ways to challenge a local authority around the decisions they’ve made. The book shows how difficult this can be as there is such a multiplicity of ways to make a challenge.
Child Protection and the Family Courts: What you Need to Know is a really good on-shelf reference manual. The internet can’t be trusted to have the definitive answers like a clearly written book, authored in this case by three experienced and highly knowledgable lawyers.
I think there are two important, but distinct purposes for this book. Taking time to read many of the chapters will help explain many of the questions that you’ve perhaps never asked the answer to for fear looking ignorant. Secondly, I think the other important use for this book is as a reference manual. When people use jargon, or cite this legislation or that act, then Child Protection and the Family Courts is the place to go to find out what they’re talking about.
Although I wouldn’t agree necessarily with the statement on the back which says that this is family law made simple, I would agree that it’s a really handy book to have. If you work with vulnerable children a lot of the time, if you’re very involved in child protection as opposed to safeguarding, then I think this is a really good reference shelf book that you can dip into when necessary.
This book I think is going to go a long way to helping DSLs and headteachers understand in those moments when you really need to find out what you don’t know.