Please note that this is not intended to be legal advice, it is just my own personal layman's view of what I would do if I had children and I received a visit from a social worker, education welfare officer or other state official who might be in a position to take children away against their will. If you find yourself in this unenviable position, I strongly advise you to seek legal advice from a qualified lawyer immediately, and before you take any actions.
This piece was originally posted on the Home-ed List on 5th February 1995
If I receive an unexpected visit from a social worker, here is what I shall do:
1) Not let her in. This is because these cases are lost and won on the balance of ‘evidence’, and the moment a social worker enters one's home, and starts taking notes, that counts as ‘evidence’. No matter what ridiculous interpretations the social worker comes up with, a court will at least listen to what she has to say, and treat her evidence as expert testimony. So the thing to do is to avoid getting into a situation in which the other side has loads of ‘evidence’ whilst you yourself have none.
2) Bend over backwards to cooperate with the enquiry in every way that would not involve the social services getting damning ‘evidence’. So,
- I'd ask them to provide a written statement describing the nature of the allegation or whatever it is they are investigating. It is essential to know what it is one is trying to refute. I'd argue for a full statement, not just a vague one.
- I'd ask them what sort of evidence would convince them that there was no problem, in case there was something simple that would end it. That would on no account include letting them come to my home and ‘test’ my children, for the reasons given above.
- I'd offer to go to their offices to discuss it. I'd immediately hire a competent lawyer with expertise in this area, and I'd take her with me to every meeting, because sometimes, I am sorry to say, officials do not observe the law in these cases, and it would be useful to have someone there who can spot transgressions or discourage them.
- I'd write lengthy reports (beautifully presented) to give them (something to put in their files) providing arguments/evidence against whatever it is they are concerned about.
- I'd tape record every conversation with anyone from the social services (it seems to encourage them to stay within the law if nothing else). These tape recordings would not be admissible as evidence in court, but if, for example, an official threatened me in a telephone call (as happened to someone I know), it would be jolly useful to have a tape of it to play the head of social services (unless the person you were recording was the head of social services!).
- I'd assume that everything I said or wrote or did was, as it were, on the record, and might be used in court – so it is essential to do nothing which might make one look unreasonable.
3) I'd immediately myself hire as many experts as necessary to talk to (etc.) my children, to provide evidence that would win a case or put the minds of the social services at rest. I'd hire paediatricians, child psychologists, eminent educationalists or teachers, anyone eminent who would write a character reference – whatever might be useful. It might be important to make sure that the social services accept my experts before going ahead, but there is no reason in principle for social services to insist upon using their own experts: experts are experts, and have their reputations to consider. In this way, I could have more control over how my child is treated, and hopefully ensure that there is no abuse of my child.
4) Given that I'd provided expert testimony that everything's fine, then – unless my lawyer informed me that I had no choice – I would not allow the social services to have access to my children, especially not without me being there. This sort of thing can be extremely traumatic for children.
This is an expensive business. Not everyone can afford all this [it might be argued].... – So don't eat. Seriously – this sort of thing is so important that if I found myself in such a position, I'd do whatever it takes to bring the enquiry swiftly to a satisfactory conclusion, and if that meant selling the (metaphorical in my case!) family silver, that's what I'd do. Everything in life is a matter of priorities. Protecting one's children is a priority. These cases can wreck lives if not handled carefully.
A final note
To maximise the chance of a good outcome in the event that something like this happens to you and your family, on no account keep your children cloistered away from the rest of the world. Children need access to the world, and you should make sure that they know about any child abuse helplines in your area, and that they are able to go to places, meet people, and do things on a regular basis.
If you and your children develop a wide network of friends and have a lot of contact with a variety of interesting people, then you will have many potential witnesses who will be both supportive and glad to provide sworn affidavits that will put the social workers' minds at rest (or persuade the judge if it comes to court).
If you find yourself having to deal with a social worker, education welfare officer, local education officer, CPS or any other person with the power to take your children away, it is very important to keep in mind that these people are very well-intentioned. They are trying to do their job, and although it may be terrifying for you, it is essential to remain calm and friendly. If you panic, bad things are more likely to happen. Instead, bend over backwards to find legally significant ways to reassure them that all is well They need to ensure that they themselves meet their own legal obligations (for example, they are legally bound to investigate if there is even a malicious anonymous allegation), so it is important to help them do that – without putting your children at risk.