7 Minute Briefing: Parental needs when removing children

1. Background

Following a Safeguarding Adult Review (SAR) Panel concerns were raised regarding the perceived elevated risk to parents / guardians / carers following the removal of children.

Trafford has experienced two cases where there is evidence of enhanced suicide risk to the relevant adult following the removal of children from parents due to safeguarding concerns.

2. Evidence base

The term ‘toxic trio’ is used to describe the issues of mental ill-health, substance misuse and domestic abuse, identified as common features of families where significant harm to children has occurred.

The toxic trio combination has been clearly linked with increased risks of abuse and neglect of children and young people. The toxic trio features in findings from serious case reviews - analysis showed that in 86% of cases where children were seriously harmed or died one or more 'toxic trio' issue had played a significant part.

The toxic trio represent a significant risk to the safety & wellbeing of children & families. These parental risk factors impact on outcomes for children into adulthood.

3. Case one

This case was heard at Adult Learning and Improvement Committee (LIC) following the death by suicide of a father in March 2018. The man concerned had recently, made an attempt on his own life and had threatened to take his own life in the event that his children were removed, this threat was known to Children’s Social Care (CSC).

A SAR referral was received from the manager at ‘Achieve’ the Drug and Alcohol service (GMMH) that had been supporting him. The essence of this referral was the lack of effective communication between CSC and Achieve, such that Achieve felt that they could not provide relevant support to the father in view of the major life event he had experienced (ie the removal of his children), and in fact only became aware of the request to provide that support when it was too late to intervene.

4. Case two

The case of a mother was considered at the Safeguarding Adult Review Panel in December 2020 following a referral completed by Greater Manchester Police Trafford District. The individual had been found deceased by police after the alarm had been raised by the Community Mental Health team (CMHT) after she had failed to attend an appointment.

The mother had expressed suicidal ideation which was linked to the removal of her child following care proceedings. There had been a history of calls noted by GMP that supported this position. Notes left at the scene attended by the police confirmed that the removal of her child was a significant causation of her apparent suicide. This case has not been finalised by the Coroner and further reports have been requested by the SAR Panel to assist deliberations.

5. The concerns

Concerns were expressed by members that when removing children through Children Act proceedings or other measures, due consideration was not given regarding a potential suicidal parent/carer.

6. Practitioners response

Initiating care proceedings or asking a parent to agree to a S20 voluntary accommodation agreement is not taken lightly. The main concern at the time is to ensure children are safeguarded and parents or carers may display or vocalise what they may do in an attempt to stop the separation happening.

The decision to remove children is often the culmination of working with families and consistent attempts using a multi-agency approach to support parents in making changes to ensure their children are safe and well cared for.

On occasion, as with the cases above, a parent risks although secondary still need to be managed. Therefore it is crucial that when it is known that a parent is involved with other services, that those services are notified in order that support can be put in place. Where services are not involved but a relevant indication has been made around suicide or self-harm, a referral must be made to the appropriate agency.

Cases that are presented to the Legal Gateway Meeting should always consider what support is in place for parents and carers and whether there is an elevated risk of suicide which may warrant other services being informed.

7. Consolidate your learning

As with all areas of safeguarding, it is better to be prepared with more information than you might ever have to use, than it is to find yourself in a position where a child’s safety and wellbeing has been compromised and you do not understand how to help them.

  • If a parent’s drug or alcohol use significantly affecting their parenting capacity how do you respond and ensure other agencies understand the possible options relating to removing children?
  • Is there evidence of non-engagement/disguised compliance by parents you work with that may mask the concerns you have?
  • Are there parents you are working with who could be in this situation?
  • Does your team recognise the warning signs of suicidal ideation?
  • Do we know who to consult if unsure?

Use this briefing in a team meeting to further understand the changes.