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Social Care and Autism in Practice - Use of Child Protection Procedures

View profile for Nathan Davies
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Following an overwhelming response to a blog on this very subject in December, it would be worthwhile picking apart the specifics of what was discussed in that blog and how social care practice (especially in cases involving children and young people with autism) has evolved recently.

The use of Child Protection Procedures, as mentioned in the previous article, is becoming a common instrument of diverting from the pertinent issue; meeting the needs of a complex child or young person in both an educational and social care context. If one were to consider the need to do so holistically then these types of scenarios would be few and far between; instead this is not done thus this practice is unfortunately becoming the norm in some areas of England and Wales. The focus is taken away from either implementing additional support (which should be autism-specific) within the current setting or consideration being given to the need for a change of placement to a more suitable environment in favour of discrediting ‘parenting ability’.  The detraction from the fundamental issue  through close monitoring by social care departments and criticism being levelled at the parents, often leads to parents being pressured into withdrawing any challenge to the Authority.

When parents feel strongly that a change of placement is necessary (which invariably means the Authority incurring considerable expense) this is almost always when these procedures are initiated. Each and every parent would not seek a specialist placement (either on a day or residential basis) for their child unless it was absolutely necessary in their view; a point that is often overlooked.

Child Protection Procedures have statutory force. It can be very intrusive, allowing for regular visits (both planned and unplanned) by an appointed social worker to the family home which includes discussions with the parents and also individual sessions with the child/young person, if deemed necessary. There is a bespoke Plan produced following an Initial Child Protection Conference if professionals determine that the child has suffered, or is at risk of significant harm in the near future. If there are perceived issues as to non-compliance with the Child Protection Plan as drawn up by multi-agency professionals, the Authority would then potentially have grounds to advance matters at subsequent reviews by threatening that the threshold has been met for PLO and thus initiating proceedings to take the child into care in extreme cases. In cases involving children on the autistic spectrum, the evidence this decision may be based upon would be entirely erroneous if dismissing key aspects of the child’s presentation that is linked to his/her diagnosis.

In the majority of cases involving those with high-functioning autism, it is often emphasised by the social worker (especially those without an understanding of ASD) that they are not seeing the same behaviours that the parents have claimed the child presents with. Without an understanding of the condition and the common masking of behaviours and difficulties, the parents are seen to either be exaggerating the child’s needs or they are the root cause of their difficulties, thereby ignoring the diagnosis.

That cannot be reasonable.  

An appropriately conducted social care assessment is only helpful when conducted by a professional with a clear understanding of the features of an ASD diagnosis. In order to be lawful, the assessment must identify the needs of the child and social care provision to meet the same. This may include respite accommodation for a specified number of hours/nights per month to assist the primary carers or direct payments, for example. The needs of the parents would also require evaluation by the social worker assigned to the case; an issue which is again, largely forgotten. In such circumstances, the voluntary Child In Need procedures may be useful for a number of families who require multi-professional input, especially in the most complex of cases.

The importance of professional input and advice, along with the accumulation of supplementary evidence, cannot be understated. It is an emotional and difficult time for any parent being made subject to these types of procedures and intervention which is why the specialist team at HCB Solicitors are on hand to assist. Please call us today on 02920 291704 to discuss your case confidentially and we can let you know how we can help.