Whilst I do not need to know your details it sounds certain thresholds had been met regarding safeguarding your grandchildren. Before an Interim Care Order can be made social services would need to demonstrate to the court that children are at risk of harm or the likelihood of harm occurring. I would guess they would have tried to provide a level of support before taking such action.
Given a supervision order was made indicates for me that an Interim Care Order was not appropriate as your daughter could provide a level of safeguarding but social services remained concerned enough as shown by the Supervision Order.
The Children Act is very clear that children should remain with their parents wherever possible so rightly the focus is, if possible, for the children to remain with the mother. Often if there is a sense that with the right support a situation can change then various options could be looked at, such as children staying elsewhere until a parent is able to demonstrate the changes that are required.
The visit you talked about – probably a Viability Assessment – is experienced like a bolt out of the blue, given the level of information that is required. Social Workers need to make sure if they are considering a family member in the event that birth parents are not able to care for a child that the birth family member would be able to put appropriate safeguarding into place, yet also managing the very difficult balancing job of supporting the birth parent. Therefore there might have been hypothetical questions about how you would manage contact between the children and the birth parents; that you might be required to supervise such contact. This is very hard for birth relatives as they know the birth parent so well and to think about “not trusting” them in respect of being able to have contact with their child is hard.
The other issue is whether a birth relative shares the same concerns as the local authority. If I take the example of domestic violence we know the huge impact this has on children, not only becoming caught up in domestic abuse, but also the emotional impact. Therefore a birth relative must demonstrate they share the same concerns as the local authority, with this indicating to the social worker that they would put the child first and foremost – link this to issues of contact. Would a birth relative who knows the birth parents get into physical and verbal arguments let a child have unsupervised contact with them.
I would not worry too much about whether you expressed yourself in the right light. A Viability Assessment is to ascertain whether there is a possibility of a child or children living with a relative. The questions would focus upon your own lifestyle etc., as well as the points I mentioned above. It would be the full kinship care assessment that would delve deeper into the issues – these would focus upon your own background, your relationships with others in the family, your adult relationship, your network you look to for support, home, work, health, financial issues, your parenting experiences, any young children you are still caring for. The assessment would again look at how you would be able to manage the complex relationship of bringing up your grandchildren and supporting your daughter.
There are guidelines regarding some of these issues, such as health, smoking, etc. In respect of smoking if this would an adoption assessment for someone not connected to the family then these guidelines are strictly adhered to. In respect of family members a social worker would look at the whole situation – if it seemed right for a child to remain with a family member and the only issue was smoking then it would be explored how the birth relative would manage this eg., smoking in the garden. In respect of health issues this really depends upon how the health issue impacts upon your day to day living. Would this stop you providing the day-to-day care your grandchildren need. If so, who else is in your network to help or support.
When social services are involved and in the court arena the social worker for the children need to explore three possible outcomes. The first would be the children remaining with the birth parent(s) and what needs to change to alleviate the concerns of the local authority. The second would be if the children cannot live with the birth parents then is there anyone else in the family that could care for them, eg., yourself. Finally if there is nobody in the family and a child cannot return to the birth parents, particularly for younger children then the final option is adoption. All of these considerations occur at the same time and during the care proceedings – with this being known as triple-track planning. It sounds to me given your daughter has a supervision order unless things deteriorate significantly and your assessment is not positive that adoption is unlikely. The situation will need to be monitored not ensure the matters do not deteriorate and if they do action can be taken in a timely way.
Your comment about the birth parents not being able to together raise the children would appear to indicate domestic abuse – from research we do know it is incredibly difficult for abuse to stop and for a woman (and I am sorry guys it is mainly abuse from men to women) to leave a perpetrator – I think statistics indicate a women tries to leaves 35 times before making the actual separation. So if I am correct (apologies if I am wrong about what is happening) social workers would be concerned if the birth parents are trying to make a go of it and would be concerned about the children. It may be the father would need to separate and seek appropriate therapy programmes to address anger issues and likewise for the mother to have support and counselling. Social workers might be willing to monitor this and put in place timescales and reviews to see whether the parents could address the issues that have caused concern.
In respect of permanent placement this is absolutely right. All too often I have seen children being past from pillar to post and they are never knowing whether they will be moving again. Often issues and concerns are temporary addressed and things go well, only for things to go wrong again, with children then moving to a relative. Sometimes I have seen children coming in and out of foster-care, being returned to birth parents until finally coming back into care permanently. Therefore when there are care proceedings what is being looked at is permanency for a child. So children know what is happening for them, today, the next day, next year etc. They are not living with uncertainty. If we take the example of domestic abuse. A child stays somewhere for say two or three years knowing they will be going back to their birth parents, what sort of thoughts, fears and anxieties might they have about going back. They would be drawn to their previous experience of living with their birth parents – would dad get angry and grumpy again, would mum be sad and crying, etc., etc.
For children to grow and develop and be able to reach their optimal outcomes in life, they need consistency and security in their lives. Therefore that is why social workers look at permanency through a legal order – eg., Residence, Special Guardianship, or in some instances Adoption. The idea of permanency within a family is that a child would be able to maintain contact with their birth parents (unless the concerns are so significant it would put a child at risk or traumatise them). Hopefully in respect of this the concerns are not at a level where contact would need to be supervised, however in some cases this is true.
Depending on how long the care proceedings take the unborn baby (when born) could become part of the proceedings, or there might be separate proceedings. I do not think, given the level of social work involvement at present that nothing would be happening in respect of the unborn baby.
In respect of yourself caring for the grandchildren would you be able to manage three children if this was necessary? There is support if you need this. The Special Guardianship Order comes with a financial support package.
If things are not positive with the assessment you could seek the leave of the court to be made party to proceedings. You could also request an independent social work assessment, giving the reasons why you were not happy with the original assessment. It might be the local authority will give some financial support in respect of seeking legal advice however this varies from local authority to local authority.
Finally hold on to the fact that your daughter has got a supervision order so the level of safeguarding concerns are not as high as say the children being removed directly to foster-care. However, this does not mean complacency. You would need to obviously show your love and commitment to the grandchildren as the motivation to offer permanency to them, but you must also put yourself in social workers’ shoes and try and understand where they are coming from. Also place yourself in your grandchildren’s shoes and think about how they see home life.
I do hope things work out for you.