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Children and Families Social Work

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Children and Families social work processes and procedures differ from one Local Authority to another. The information below should be used as a guide only. Contact Children and Families Social Work in your own area if you require further information.

Why do social work become involved with a family?

There are many reasons why Children and Families Social Work might become involved with a family. When someone in the family enters the criminal justice system, and there are children in the household, Children and Families Social Work might become involved, depending upon the nature of the crime and family circumstances.

Social work may become involved when a family member is released from prison. This is because a referral must be made, for example if the offence that a person committed might mean that they are a risk of harm to children. If the person wishes to have contact with their child/children, social workers will need to make sure that this is appropriate and that the child/ children are safe.

Once a referral has been made, a social worker will assess the child's needs. This will involve talking to the child, their parents and other people who know the child. The social worker will also look at the child's home and school environment.

What assessments will my social worker conduct?

There are a variety of assessments that a social worker might carry out, depending on the child's needs. These can include consideration of the following:

  • The child's long-term needs and how best to support them.
  • The family's needs and how best to support them.
  • Whether a child is in immediate danger of harm.

Once an assessment is complete, the social worker will work with the child and their family to develop a plan to support them.

What are the possible outcomes of the assessments?

Once any assessments are complete, it will be decided what level of support should be offered to your children. 

There are three main types of support in Children and Families Social Work in Scotland:

  • Voluntary intervention: This is support offered to children and families who are experiencing difficulties but do not necessarily need statutory intervention. Help can be offered by a range of services, including social work, health and education. The support available will differ from one Local Authority to another. This type of support is completely voluntary.
  • Child Protection intervention: Child protection support will be offered if a child is deemed at risk of harm. Child protection support is voluntary. However, at this stage social work have an obligation regarding the safety of the child so, if a parent does use the support offered, it is likely they will seek a legal order.
  • Statutory intervention under an order: This type of support is not voluntary. It will take place if a legal order is made as part of a Children's Hearing (see below). An order will be given if the child's needs require non-voluntary intervention.

The level of support that a child receives will depend on their individual needs and circumstances. Social workers will work with children and families to ensure that they are receiving the right level of support to thrive.

What is a Child Protection Order?

Child Protection Orders (CPO) A CPO is sought in emergency and high risk situations, where protection measures need to be put in place immediately to protect the child. Applications for CPOs are made in the Sheriff Court. A CPO may grant authority for a child to be removed from home to a safe place, or prevent the removal of the child from a place of safety. If granted by a Sheriff, a CPO leads to a referral to the Reporter and consideration of compulsory measures of supervision.

(Source: Children's Social Services in Scotland (www.gov.scot))


A table with examples of appropriate language use

Child Protection Investigation

If Children and Families Social Work decide that a child is at risk of significant harm, they will initiate a Child Protection Investigation.  The investigation brings together professional agencies who have a role in the life of the child, including:

  • Social work
  • Police
  • Health
  • Education
  • Voluntary Agencies

There are a number of possible outcomes of a child protection investigation:

  • They may conclude that there are no concerns and take no further action

  • They may decide that some support or guidance will be helpful and put in place some support measures

  • If there are concerns that the child has been harmed or will be harmed, you might be invited to a Child Protection Case Conference which looks at how best to keep your child safe both now and in the future.  You are entitled to be accompanied to this meeting by a friend, family member or legal representative

  • If there are serious concerns, they may refer the case to a Scottish Children’s Reporter. The Reporter will arrange a Children’s Hearing (sometimes called a Children’s Panel). The Children’s Hearing has the power to put in place a Legal Order relating to the way in which the child should be cared for. 

One outcome of the investigation may be to place your child’s name on the Scottish Child Protection Register (CPR).  This is a list that each local authority keeps of all of the children living in their area who have a Child Protection Plan in place.  You should be given a copy of the information held about your child. 

Glasgow Child Protection Committee have developed a useful booklet explaining the steps that may follow a child protection investigation.  It is worth being aware that each Local Authority will have its own processes.

What happens if I don’t get on with my social worker? Can I ask for a different social worker?

In short, no. You do not have the right in law to a change of social worker. You can however, in the first instance, speak to your social worker about wanting to change social workers, and then put a request into writing to the social worker’s manager. You can do this by letter or email. There are no guarantees that a change of social worker will be authorised, and even if there is a change of social worker, your child and family will need to get to know a new social worker.

How can I find out what information social work has on record about me and my family?

If you wish a copy of your social work file, these requests should be sent directly to the relevant local authority. You will need to make what is called a subject access request (SAR). You do not make this request through your social worker. This is done centrally and you must follow the advice of your local authority on how to make a request. This information can be found on your local authority social work website.

Can I appeal?

You have the right to appeal decisions made at the Child Protection Case Conference.  Your Social Worker will be able to provide you with the address to send your complaint to.  Your appeal will be assessed by a manager who was not involved in your case.  If you disagree with the outcome of the appeal, you can then appeal to the Head of Service for Children and Family Services.

You also have the right to complain about the way that professionals have worked with you or your child.  The social work department in your local area should be able to provide you with the complaints process for the service you wish to complain about. 

For how long will social services be involved with my family?

This will depend upon what level of support you are receiving and will vary from case to case.

If a member of the household is placed under police investigation, for example, and the person is suspected of a sexual or violent crime, it can be that social work remains involved for the duration of the investigation, and beyond. 

As mentioned earlier, a referral to social work can also be made when a parent is released from prison and wishes to have contact with a child. If the parent has committed an offence that may suggest they pose a risk to children, an assessment will need to be made. 

Use this document for reference: Children's Social Services in Scotland (www.gov.scot)

A table showing the notification periods for the various sentence types. Prison sentence of 30 months or more (including life), Indefinite. Order for lifelong restriction, Indefinite. Admission to a hospital subject to a restriction order, Indefinite. Prison sentence of more than 6 months but less than 30 months, 10 years. Prison sentence of 6 months or less, 7 years. Admission to a hospital without a restriction order, 7 years. Community payback order with an offender supervision requirement, The length of the offender supervision requirement. Any other sentence (e.g. a fine or admonition), 5 years.

Making a complaint about social work

If you are unhappy with the service you or someone else has received from Children and Families Social Work, you may want to make a complaint. You may want to complain about:

  • Failure or refusal to provide a service
  • Inadequate quality or standard of service
  • Unhappiness at how the service is provided because of how it affects you
  • Services and actions not matching what the local council website says it will do
  • Incompetence in communicating with you, for example not calling back or writing when staff said they would
  • Delays in providing something
  • How a member of staff talks to you or treats you

Source: Citizens Advice Scotland

Citizens Advice Scotland are an excellent source of support should you need to make a complaint about social work.  Their website clearly explains:

  • Who can complain
  • Who to complain to and how to complain
  • How the complaint is handled
  • Scottish Public Services Ombudsman
  • Care Inspectorate
  • Scottish Social Services Council
  • Problems with some complaints

It is important to note that you cannot complain if you are taking legal action about the same issue.  

You might be worried about making a complaint if the local council is involved with your family for legal reasons, for example because someone has been at risk. You can make a complaint and you can ask for it to be kept confidential.

If you think your complaint will be handled by someone who has important decisions to make about your family and you think they will judge your complaint unfairly, you can contact the complaints officer instead. You can get more advice from Citizens Advice Scotland.

Source: Citizens Advice Scotland

What is a Children’s Hearing?

A Children's Hearing (sometimes known as a Children’s Panel) is a group of three trained volunteers who make legal decisions about how to help and protect children and young people. Children's hearings are held when a child or young person is at risk of harm, or when they are having problems at home or in school.

There are many reasons why a family might encounter a children's hearing. Some of the most common reasons include:

  • If a child is at risk of harm from abuse or neglect.
  • If a child is not attending school regularly.
  • If a child is committing offences.
  • If a child is having problems at home, such as conflict with their parents or siblings.
  • If a child is in need of care and protection, such as if they are homeless or their parents are unable to care for them.

Children's hearings are informal and child-centred. The child or young person has the right to be present at the hearing and to have their views heard. The panel will listen to all of the evidence before making a decision about what is in the best interests of the child or young person.

The panel can make a number of different decisions, including:

  • Making a supervision order, which means that the child or young person will be supervised by a social worker.
  • Making a compulsory supervision order, which means that the child or young person must be supervised by a social worker.
  • Placing the child or young person in care, which means that they will live with foster carers or in a residential home.

Children's panels play an important role in protecting and supporting children and young people in Scotland. If you are concerned about a child or young person, you can contact your local social work department or the Children's Reporter.

Additional information

The Scottish Children's Reporter Administration (SCRA) provides information for parents and carers on it's website. The website includes a series of guides in Easy Read format.

Last updated:
February 24, 2024
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