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Are you a concerned parent for your child?

Is this familiar: 'you can talk but they won’t always listen'... read this useful article from Osborne Law

Are you a concerned parent for your child?

As any parent of teenagers knows, you can talk but they won’t always listen. So, what can you do when their behaviour spirals out of control?Jonathan Jonas, a solicitor at Osbornes Law, who acts for parents and children in family proceedings,explains what happens if the local authority is forced to step in.The legal threshold for intervention is the point at which professionals consider that a child is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm.

Jonathan says: 

“Often parents are unsure of the best way to intervene when their child is putting

themself in risky situations.

“It’s not unusual for social services to get involved where a child has come to the attention of the police or made a concerning comment to a teacher, for example. If social services then consider that child is beyond parental control or not receiving the appropriate level of care, matters may quickly escalate.”

Jonathan’s caseload includes children who may have broken the law, been exploited or are in the grip of a potentially life-threatening condition, such as self-harming or an eating disorder, and refusing treatment. Youngsters may also have been groomed or manipulated into making destructive and dangerous decisions.

A local authority can make any enquiries they consider necessary to safeguard the child in question. If court proceedings are necessary, a social work trained professional or children’s guardian and a specialist solicitor will then be appointed to advocate on the child’s behalf and act in their best interests.

What the law says

All mothers and most fathers – if they are married to the child’s mother or listed on their birth certificate - have legal rights and responsibilities as a parent known as ‘parental responsibility’. It’s natural for adolescents to assert their growing independence, but in situations where the threshold for intervention is crossed, practitioners will typically assess this using the Fraser guidelines based on the case of Gillick v West Norfolk and Wisbech Area Health Authority (AHA).

The case involved a mother who sued the health authority for providing the contraceptive pill to her underage daughter without parental consent or consultation. It went all the way to the House of Lords, which found in favour of the health authority, ruling:

“… whether or not a child is capable of giving the necessary consent will depend on the child’s maturity and understanding... The child must be capable of making a reasonable assessment of the advantages and disadvantages… so the consent, if given, can be properly and fairly described as truenconsent.”

Since then, the test has been more widely used to help assess whether a child has the sufficient understanding to make their own decisions and to understand the implications. In court, where a child has sufficient understanding of a particular issue, they can argue their case directly to the judge - even if professionals or parents consider this to be contrary to their welfare.

What can parents do?

Many problematic behaviours seen in teens these days originate online. Cases like Andrew Tate, the controversial influencer currently held in Romania on suspicion of rape and human trafficking, have highlighted the dark side of social media and there are calls for greater action.

The Online Safety Bill currently going through Parliament promises to crack down on platforms that host illegal or harmful content. But what if the damage has already been done?

“There are many reasons children put themselves in harm’s way. We can’t blame everything on social media, but it presents many risks,” Jonathan says. He advises referring to online resources such as the NSPCC or for advice. He adds: “I’m usually brought in at the stage when the local authority has either started care proceedings or is considering doing so. It’s an unfamiliar and frightening situation for any parent and they want advice about how best to handle it and what the law says.

“Parents can find social workers overly judgmental, critical, unresponsive or reactionary. However, they are trained professionals, motivated to help families and supported by the experience and resources of the local authority. They have a duty to investigate children who are at risk of harm.

“When parents say they need help, I encourage them to work constructively with social services and be proactive where possible. Parents can also seek support from other professionals such as their child’s school, GP, or any therapeutic resources like Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service.

“If their current strategies aren’t working, finding a different way of having a dialogue with the child– one where they can find common ground - can help.”

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