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In my previous article I discussed some of the risks and potential outcomes associated with the legal processes’ parents have a right to undertake to ensure the needs of their children are met. In this article, I will endeavour to suggest ways to protect yourself and your family prior to these legal processes and what questions to consider before undertaking these.

Though I am aware this article could never cover all the areas that increase a family’s vulnerability nor how the COV19 bill will impact upon these even further and indeed may or may not take place.

Let us consider firstly what increases your vulnerability as parent/s or as a family. Are you a single parent?

Do you have a positive proactive family and good network of support from friends?

Are you isolated within your community?

Do you have an advocacy service available to you?

Are you aware the Local Authority under the Care Act 2014 have a duty to provide an independent advocate for you and your children

Without a strong support network, you are vulnerable.

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Have you had historical or current mental health issues, or other diagnostic profiles/disabilities including autism?

Again, historical difficulties that occurred for parents who were previously misdiagnosed and/or past or current mental health issues can and does raise its head again to be used as a weapon to discredit the parent and raise child protection cases usually on the premise of potential neglect and emotional abuse. 

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The one criterion often used the most by Local Authorities. If they start child protection processes have you someone who would be prepared to be a guardian for your child.

If you have historical/current diagnostic profiles that could be exploited then It may be advisable to seek a potential litigation friend for your children prior to starting a judicial review who meets the criteria and is willing to be culpable for costs levied by the Local Authority if you lose.

L.A can use the Mental Health Act to support their case that you lack parental capacity to support their accusation that you are not a suitable litigation friend.  Triggering an S47 can potentially be used to cite you’re not a suitable litigation friend. 

This theoretically means you would not be able to represent the case or evidence at court. It also allows creates a delay in the Judicial review process.

Have you had historical involvement from services such as Social Care as a child, young adult or because of domestic violence? Again, can be used against parents to substantiate accusations that this impact upon your parenting capabilities, to justify minimising a child’s needs, or neglect and abuse accusations.

You could seek an independent parenting assessment prior but it may be dismissed due to parent/s commissioning them.

There is a shortage especially of appropriately qualified personages to do this for neuro divergent families.

Those form local authorities carrying out the parenting assessment may not be trained or knowledgeable in your family’s diagnostic profiles and therefore not take these into consideration.

Have you as a parent/family sought private independent assessments? This is a double-edged sword. Often, we hear how early intervention and identifying needs to ensure the correct support is in place is important.

However, seeking private assessments can be used to justify accusations against the parent/s despite these professionals being governed by the same bodies as the NHS and often work for them either historically or currently.

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Another criticism that can be levied at parents who seek independent assessments is that they are present at the appointments or the child is not seen alone apparently from an evidential standpoint this becomes an issue despite that this often applies to local services appointments and processes for assessments and identifying needs as well.

Do you as a parent have a diagnostic profile that increases your risk of FII? With accusations if FII on the increase its important to look at how to minimise this being used to justify accusations.

Often Local Authorities do not follow process or guidance neither obtaining factual evidence to substantiate these accusations nor highlight their concerns or opposition directly with the diagnosticians concerned.

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Do you have a water tight paper trail? Is the majority of your evidence based from their own paper work? (SARS).

Do you have independent witnesses? I would suggest when you start on the route of identifying why your child is struggling; seeking appropriate intervention and support that you keep all correspondence. If you can do not attend appointments on your own and make detailed notes of those appointments.

If you can do your correspondence via emails or letters. Record assessments, home visits; appointments and telephone calls and make detailed notes or transcripts also helpful. 

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This helps to keep accurate records though Sounds excessive but may be important further down the line for some parents/families. Are you aware of GDPR rules regarding recordings and the use of recordings and transcripts?

Start to create and update regularly a detailed, accurate chronology of what takes place with appendices from the outset. Often parents seek independent assessments because of services declining to accept referrals or those services not being commissioned. 

This chronology and accompanying evidence could become important and if not updated as a parent you may find that you will not have the time to do the above so the evidence cannot be provided quickly enough to solicitors acting on the family’s behalf.

Courts will rely initially on what is provided by local authorities which may or may not be accurate and make decisions based on what they provide.

Have you started complaints processes with the local authority, what stage are you at?  My suggestion would be to go through all their complaint procedures first. If you start a judicial review the local authority will tell you that they cannot continue or go to the next stage within their complaints process. 

This in reality is the least precarious route to undertake, the local authority potentially will be less likely to start an unlawful S47s or raise false accusations when internally addressing complaints via their own processes.

Then go to the local Government omnibusman. (LGO) Though be mindful that the complaints you make can also be used to justify actions taken against you at a later date.

So, prioritise complaints, ensure you have the factual data to substantiate those, and familiarise yourself with the complaints’ procedures specific to your local authority. Pick and prioritise your battles/complaints.

If you are tied up in legal processes such as Send Tribunal, Family Court or if you have started a Judicial Review then the lGO will not investigate the Local Authority. 

As long as there is a legal process ongoing you will struggle to find anyone willing to investigate a local Authorities actions, behaviours and whether processes are lawful or not. 

If you disagree with the LGO decision then you can judicially review them. Again, the least risky option to take.

However also the COV19 has impacted upon LGO investigations creating even longer delays now and in the future.

Similarly, with ICO investigations linked to breaches in GDPR delays will increase.

I would also suggest, especially prior to starting a judicial review doing subject access requests in advance to all services involved with your family. Issues may occur with data being withheld, the loop hole of requesting extensions and you may need to highlight missing data which is why your chronology will be important. 

This can often highlight some valuable evidence that could potentially protect and clarify matters further in legal processes. If an S47 is raised in response to your judicial review remember also to do a SAR to the police who are required to attend the Strategy Meeting prior to doing an S47 being triggered. Collating evidence to protect your family.

Before starting any legal process –

These are only some suggestions of what to reflect upon prior to undertaking legal process to support your child/ren.

The reality is prior to the COV19 bill families were being failed and reactive actions from local authorities have taken place often to the detriment of the family with little to no accountability.

Families were being failed and the COV19 bill appears to increase the risk and vulnerabilities and increased the lack of accountability to Local Authorities civil servants and other local services. 

Consider the prevalence of children with SEN under the care of the local authority in the area and UK in my area the children in care is 9.1% well above the national average if data is correct three out of four of children in care have SEN. Questions need to be asked why so many children in any area are in care.

Why predominantly SEN children. Why an increase in false accusations and child protection cases since the implementation of EHCPs. What impact will COV19 bill have on these figures. Where has it gone wrong? How can we support and protect vulnerable families?

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