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Social Work Law and Organisational Context

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Social Work
Wordcount: 4364 words Published: 19th Jul 2018

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The law and organization context of social work is extremely important when looking at specific cases and scenarios. The aim of this essay is to examine two specific cases, one involving children and families and the other involving community care issues. In these cases the relevant issues regarding social work and law will be identified, and recommendations will be made regarding the assessment criteria that need to be met and what the likely outcome of the cases might be. This will be done by looking at relevant government legislation and case examples, as well as general social work and law practice.

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The first section will look at a case of Children and families, and examine the issues of significant harm and children in need in relation to the scenario. There will be a definition of these two concepts as they are laid out in the Children Act and Every Child Matters document, as well as recommendations on how best to assess and determine the outcome of this case.

The second case will look at community care issues involving a disabled parent and elderly carer. The assessments regarding the welfare of the child and parent as well as any potential care issues will be looked at. This will involve consultation with the Children Act, the Human Rights Act, the Community Care Act and the Carer’s Act. Recommendations will be given regarding how to properly assess this situation and what benefits may be offered to the parties involved.

Scenario 1 Children and Families

Scenario: Working in Childrens social services, you receive a referral from a church worker about the Jones family. She says that the parents (18 and 19) are often under the influence of drink or drugs, that the children (2 and 4) are dirty and smelly and not being fed properly. You are asked to carry out an initial assessment. What is the role of the local authority when children are in need and if they are facing significant harm? What options does the law offer to ensure that these children are safe?

In this situation, the first thing that needs to be referred to is the Children’s Acts of 1989, and of 2004 (OPSI, 1989 and 2004). These acts are the basis by which social workers determine how at risk children are in particular environments, and what the assessment criteria should be used when looking at such a case. In this case, the main issues are the definitions of ‘significant harm’ and ‘children in need’.

Looking at the 1989 Children Act, we will start with the concept of significant harm.

The concept of significant harm and its definition is referred to in section 47 of the 1989 Children Act. This says that the local authority is under a duty to investigate or create inquiries into the suffering of a child where there is cause to suspect that significant harm is being done to the child or significant harm is likely to befall the child (OPSI, 1989, s. 47). From this, a court can only make a supervision order or care order if the child is suffering or likely suffer significant harm, and this harm is caused by the lack of adequate parental care or control (OPSI, 1989, s. 31).

In this case, ‘harm’ refers to ill-treatment such as physical and sexual abuse, as well as mental abuse, poor physical or mental health cause by the parent’s lack of care and impairment of health or development. These factors are compared to what a ‘normal’ child would be expected to have at a particular age (OPSI, 1989, S. 31(9-10)).

However, there are no precise guidelines on what would constitute significant harm in each case. Despite this, it is fairly clear in this scenario that where alcohol and drugs are involved and the children are dirty, smelly and potentially malnourished, a duty to investigate is there. The children are being physically impaired at the very least with regards to their health, and the involvement of alcohol and drugs means that this is potentially being caused by the lack of parental care. In such a case, the family context would need to be looked at, as would the child’s development, any special needs the child has, and the exact nature of the harm and the adequacy of parental care.

In this case the parents are both very young, but this alone is of course of no particular issue as discrimination laws prevent such discrimination of parental rights based on age. The most important things in this case would be to investigate and prove or disprove the claims about the parent’s alcohol and drug abuse, and also look at the exact state of health of the children.

However, there is another concept to look at as well, regarding the nature of children in need. This definition is located in section 17 of the 1989 Children Act. This part of the Children Act shows where legal work and social work combine to form the assessment criteria for families (Tunstill, in Parton, 1997, pp. 40-43). The legal definition ‘Children in Need’ is that the child is unlikely to achieve or maintain or have the opportunity for a reasonable standard of health or development without provision of services from the local authority, and that the child’s health is likely to be impaired or further impaired without such services (Surrey County Council., 2008). In this case, it is not yet determined whether the children are suffering because of the parents, or whether there is some medical reason why the children are in a poor condition. However, if it is proven that the parents are abusing alcohol and drugs; this would most likely constitute a case of children in need or children with the likelihood of suffering significant harm.

However, in such a case it is unlikely that a permanent care order would be given, and more likely that a temporary care order or supervision order would be put in place, giving the parents the chance to deal with their problems and raise their children properly. If the parents failed in this, then a permanent care order may be issued. There may also be police investigations in light of the allegations regarding illegal drug abuse.

If when the children are initially assessed they appear to be in poor physical health, then it is likely that an emergency protection order will be put in place in order to protect the children from further harm in the short-term, whilst the parental and family situation is better assessed and looked at. This way the children will not be placed in further danger, and a more measured approach can take place with regards to the ability of the parents to look after the children (RPsych, 2008).

If the children are taken away, then the first option for many Councils currently is to place the children with suitable relatives or friends. It is often found that children are happier and less distressed in such situations, particularly in the short-term. However, this is not always possible and if not a foster home will be assigned for the children should an emergency care order be put in place.

The use of drugs and alcohol by the parents, if proven, is a strong indicating factor of danger to the child. In a study in the London area of 290 cases it has been found that nearly 1 third of cases involved substance misuse, and that these children were even more vulnerable than many of the others because of this. The children were generally very young, as in this case, and the parents had a variety of problems in addition to the substance misuse, either directly or indirectly linked to this problem. Therefore, this case must be looked at extremely carefully and all efforts made to safeguard the children (Department for Education and Skills (DfES), 2002, s. 2.16).

This is particularly crucial because many studies have also shown that in many cases, the children were not fully safeguarded and not enough was done to protect the children from harm. Although this must not mean looking at the parents immediately as if they were guilty, it is important to fully and thoroughly assess the situation so that the children remain safe, as this is the number one priority (DfES, 2002, s. 2.11).

It is clear in this case that investigation is warranted; as one such allegations are made there is a duty on the part of the local authority to investigate. However, in order for any action to be taken, the threshold for significant harm needs to be met. As mentioned before in this case it seems likely that significant harm might be occurring or likely to occur, but the threshold needs to be met, and this can only be determined by a detailed investigation of the family. This can prove difficult, as a study of 105 cases found that there were varying interpretations of significant harm, even with the guidelines set out in the Children Act. This can make it very difficult to determine what exactly constitutes significant harm, and whether or not action should be taken. However, it seems that being more cautious and putting the rights of the children first, without immediately determining the parents as guilty, is the most appropriate way to act in light of the guidelines (Brandon, Lewis, and Thoburn, 2007, pp. 15-19).

Giving parents ‘the benefit of the doubt’ or not looking deeply into the situation can prove extremely harmful, as was shown in the Victoria Climbie case. In light of this, the government has made sure that organizations are now much more integrated, and that the principle responsibility in such cases is the welfare of the children and making sure the children are safe. This means that staff can now more accurately and easily determine cases of abuse or ill-treatment, and they have the necessary support to follow through such investigations. This is certainly important in this case, as the abuse may be hard to determine, especially if the children are merely dirty or have hygiene issues rather than noticeable wounds or damage (Department of Health., 2003)

One of the most difficult factors to decide is if the child is suffering significant harm from seeing violence committed by their parents, perhaps on each other rather than the child. Whilst this cannot yet be determined in this case, if the children themselves are unharmed then the harm caused by witnessing violence cannot be underestimated. In another study by Brandon and Lewis (2007), it was discovered that 49 of the 105 cases reviewed included children who witnessed violence, and in many cases the harm caused to the child was often overlooked or downgraded by the social work professional. Although in this case the circumstances may be different, because the children are already being reported as in poor physical health. However, this issue of witnessing violence must be considered an issue in light of the claims regarding alcohol and drug misuse.

In this case, the allegations would require a full investigation of the family, to see whether the thresholds for significant harm and children in need have been reached. If this is the case, then the children will be fully examined, and should be put on a program of health improvement. This may involve removing the children from the parents for a period of time if their health is a real issue or the parents have alcohol and drug misuse problems. However, if this is not the case then a supervision order may be enough to improve the health of the children. If this does not look like improving matters, then more drastic care measures may be taken so as to make sure the children are safe.

Whilst this is occurring, it needs to be made sure that all issues of discrimination are dealt with, particularly in the form of racial or age discrimination as these issues are often a problem in child safety assessments such as this. It must also be remembered that whilst the parents may be having problems at this time, if the parents can get support as well then any care placement or supervision order may be short-term, as the aim wherever possible is to keep children with their parents if they can remain safe and healthy in that environment (Bretherton, Huzzard, and Little, 2006).

It must also be remembered that whilst the care and safety of the child is important, the parents have needs and rights too and traumatizing them unduly when a more appropriate measure might be an initial talk rather than a full investigation. The children should always come first, but if their parents are accused wrongly then the child’s needs are not being met (Spratt, 2000, pp. 611-615)

Scenario 2 Community Care

Scenario: Julia, 45 contacted her local disability action group to find out what support might be available to her. Her husband left the family home six months ago, shortly after Julie had given birth to a baby girl and received a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. Julias sight has recently deteriorated and her mother, Anna who is 75, has been commuting thirty miles per day to provide general help around the home and support with the care of the baby. As the social worker/advocate taking Julias call how would you advise her? What is she entitled to from social services? What support might be available to the family?

In this case, there is a delicate balancing act to be had between giving the disabled parent the right amount of support, making sure the child is adequately cared for, and providing support for the elderly carer. This involves looking at the legislation and guidelines laid out in the Community Care Act, and the Carer’s Act.

Firstly, it must be decided whether or not the disability or health issue of the parent is separate from them being a parent, and does not impact on the quality of the life of the child. If this is the case, then the assessment for support is based on an adult assessment framework. However, if it is judged that the child is in need and the disability or health issue of the parent impacts on the well-being of the child, then an assessment must be made under the Children Act with regards to the child’s welfare.

Firstly, the parent would be advised that they can be assessed by the NHS and Community Care Act framework to determine the level of support they require. This assessment will not only look at the needs of the disabled parent, but also the ability of the parent to take care of the child. This is included in section 47 of the Community Care Act, which states that a person will be assessed who has a disability, and their needs will be determined with regards to welfare and accommodation. This may involve an inspection of the home to see how it could be improved to meet the needs of the disabled parent, and also in this case the child (North Somerset Council., 2003).

This assessment would also determine how much support the parent needs, and therefore how capable they are of looking after the child (OPSI, 1990, S. 47). In this case, it must be pointed out that the parent already requires care in order to look after the child, which at the moment is provided from her elderly mother.

However, needing support in order to take better care of the child does not mean that the parent is incapable of looking after the child. However, because of the nature of the disability as something which is only like to get worse from a degenerative illness, an ongoing monitoring of the child’s well-being may well take place. This is so that the child can remain with the parent, but also remains safe should the condition of the parent deteriorate to a point where they can no longer provide adequate care for the child.

The parent should be advised that as well as having their own situation looked at with regards to support, an assessment of the child’s care will also be done. It should be pointed out to the parent that this is in no way indicative that their child will be removed into care, but it helps the local authority to make sure the needs of the disabled parent and the child are looked after.

The process will eventually lead to a care strategy being created that should allow for services that will help the parent to look after their child and also meet the needs of the adult. It is crucial that the adult is not discriminated against because they are disabled, and that it is not immediately assumed that they are incapable of looking after the child. Whilst the potential for degenerative blindness in the parent is worrying, with adequate support they should still be able to look after their child effectively. This is important because a number of studies have shown that disabled parents are often treated poorly, with their rights as parents looked down upon and their needs not met.

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A disabled person has the right to have a family and get support for this family, within reasonable limits, and as long as the child can be taken care of so that they are not in need. This is covered by the Human Rights Act of 1998, and means that discrimination against disabled parents is prohibited. In these cases, the children protection agencies and adult care agencies should work together to provide support for the adult so that they can best look after themselves and their child (DirectGov, 2008). The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (2003) found that disabled parents often face the assumption that their disability is placing the child at risk. It should be made clear to parents that they are entitled to assistance with parenting tasks from adult community care services. It is important that the rights and needs of the parents are looked after, because by doing this they will be able to look after their child.

One other problem is that much of the emphasis is put on ‘Young Carer’s whereby children who are capable will help to care for their parents when they can. They of course receive support, but the overemphasis on this side means that the needs of the parents are overlooked and perhaps too much responsibility is placed on the children. In this case such a young carer is not possible as the child is still only a baby (Wates, 2007).

Another issue here is the care being given by the elderly mother of the disabled parent. At 75 years old it is certainly not ideal that she be in charge of caring for the baby and the parent, not because she is incapable but because it is a lot of strain for someone elderly to have to go through. However, if this is only to be a short-term measure or partial relief along with other support services, then the elderly mother can claim support and benefits as a carer under the Carers and Disabled Children Act (OPSI, 2000) and the Carers Act (OPSI, 1995). The carer will be assessed to see if they are qualified or capable of being a care giver, and support will be given to them in order to help carry out this duty. Although in this case it is more likely that this would only be as a short-term or emergency measure, given the age of the potential carer and the fact a young baby and a disabled parent need care.

The most important factor here is to make sure that both the adult assessment and child assessment are carried out with the desire to make sure the adult gets the support they need to look after themselves and their child adequately (Solihull NHS., 2006). In this case, one of the best ways to gain support might be through the use of direct payments to the disabled parent, thereby allowing them the chance to arrange support that suits them and their child. The assessment will give the parent a chance to understand the ways in which support can help them, and the direct payment scheme can help them to remain independent (Bytheway et al, 2002, pp. 341-343).


In both cases, the most important factors are to make sure that the assessment criteria are fulfilled, and that adequate support is given so that both parents and children can remain together in a safe and stable environment. In the first case, the welfare of the child must be of paramount importance, and any risk to the child should be put first. However, it must also be made sure that every effort is made for the parents and children to remain together if the parents can receive support to improve their care giving abilities (Whitney, 2004, pp. 52-55). In the second case, the most important factor is to make sure that the disabled parent gets the support they need and, if possible, continue to look after their child effectively with this support. If these procedures are implemented then both parents and children will be able to remain safe and receive the support they need.



Butler, I., Butler, I.G., and Roberts, G., 2003. Social Work with Children and Families: Getting Into Practice. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Millam, R., 2002. Anti-Discriminatory Practice: a guide for workers in childcare and education. Continuum International Publishing Group.

Parton, N., 1997. Child Protection and Family Support: Tensions, Contradictions and Possibilities. Routledge.

Whitney, B., 2004. Protecting Children: A Handbook for Teachers and School Managers. London: RoutledgeFalmer.

Scenario 1:

Brandon, M.B., and Lewis, A., 2007. Significant harm and children’s experiences of domestic violence. Child and Family Social Work, 1(1), pp. 33-42.

Brandon, M.B., Lewis, A., and Thoburn, J., 2007. The Children Act definition of ‘significant harm’—interpretations in practice. Health and Social Care in the Community, 4(1), pp. 11-20.

Bretherton, H., Huzzard, S., and Little, P., 2006. Family Justice Research Digest, Issue 1. Available at: http://www.family-justice-council.org.uk/docs/rd_06_issue1.pdf

Department for Education and Skills (DfES)., 2002. Children Act Report 2002. Available at: http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/publications/childrenactreport/docs/DfES-Childrens%20Act.pdf

Department of Health., 2003. Keeping Children Safe: The Governments Response to the Victoria Climbié Inquiry Report and Joint Chief Inspectors Report Safeguarding Children. Available at: http://www.everychildmatters.gov.uk/_files/684162953674A15196BB5221973959E3.pdf

Department of Health., 2008. Department of Health Website. (Online). Available at: http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/index.htm (Accessed 17th August 2008).

Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI)., 1989. Children Act 1989. http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts1989/ukpga_19890041_en_1

Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI)., 2004. Children Act 2004. Available at: http://www.opsi.gov.uk/ACTS/acts2004/ukpga_20040031_en_1.htm

RPsych., 2008. Overview of the Children Act 1989. (Online). http://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/files/samplechapter/102_0.pdf (Accessed 18th August 2008).

Spratt, T., 2000. Decision making by senior social workers at point of first referral. British Journal of Social Work, 30, pp. 597-618.

Surrey County Council., 2008. What does the term children in need mean? (Online). Available at: http://www.surreycc.gov.uk/sccwebsite/sccwspages.nsf/LookupWebPagesByTITLE_RTF/What+does+the+term+Children+in+Need+meanQ?opendocument. (Accessed 16th August 2008).

Scenario 2:

Bytheway, B., et al. 2002. Understanding Care, Welfare and Community: A Reader. London: Routledge.

DirectGov., 2008. Rights, legislation and disabled parents. (Online). Available at: http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/DisabledPeople/Disabledparents/DG_10037905 (Accessed 17th August 2008).

Joseph Rowntree Foundation., 2003. Disabled parents are undermined by poor support and negative attitudes, says task force. Available at: http://www.jrf.org.uk/pressroom/releases/240903.asp

North Somerset Council., 2003. Parents with Care Needs. Available at: http://www.n-somerset.gov.uk/NR/rdonlyres/611F9138-4C4F-4762-9ECB-5AC16C94622D/0/document_20030701_Protocol19ParentsWithCareNeeds.pdf

Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI)., 1990. National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990 (c. 19). Available at: http://www.opsi.gov.uk/ACTS/acts1990/ukpga_19900019_en_1 

Available at: http://www.opsi.gov.uk/ACTS/acts2000/ukpga_20000016_en_1

Solihull NHS., 2006. Supporting disabled parents Solihull MBC inter-directorate protocol and staff guidance. Available at: http://www.solihull.nhs.uk/foi/policies/social_care/D%20-%20Disabled%20Parents%20Protocol.pdf


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