Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 promotes the upbringing of children by their families. It imposes duties on local authorities to provide services that enable children to stay with their parents. That means that if a parent does not have enough money for food, or is facing homelessness with their child, the local council can provide accommodation or cash to support them all.
Social services are only ever entitled to remove children without the consent of their parents if the children are at risk of serious harm - like abuse or neglect - and are not safe with the parents because of their actions.
Despite this, families are routinely threatened with having their children taken into care, even when there are no safeguarding issues surrounding parent’s care. We see this frequently through our advice and advocacy work and on our telephone advice line.
Our advice service shows that, when challenged, local authorities usually back away from this assertion. But we are concerned that many families do not seek independent help, and ‘disappear’ after being told by local authorities that their children can be taken into care. Many families remain homeless or destitute because they are too frightened to go back to social services after being threatened with having their children taken away.
To raise awareness of this issue, we contributed to this Guardian article. We continue to engage with council officers and officials to highlight this dangerous and unlawful practice.