The impact of investigation and the need for professionalism

We know that if the professionals in the child protection system are told that a child is being hurt or at risk of being hurt, they have to act. And that can sometimes mean an intrusive investigation into the family and some difficult questions. 

Here we set out some of the words of parents who have been investigated and no concerns were found – and how they found the experience. 

We hope that all who work in this field can recognise the potentially enormous impact of their interventions and will appreciate the importance of remaining professional in all their interactions. 


One mother’s story

This mother had to deal with an investigation following something her son said at school. Nothing came of the investigation but she is still dealing with its aftermath and her shock at the attitude of some of the investigating professionals. 

There were no concerns about my son until an unqualified student with no experience of autism turned an informal chat into a ‘therapy session’ in which she questioned him as to why he ‘looked sad’. This led him to become anxious and confused. A referral was made on the basis of what he said during this session.

We were not informed that a referral had been made and my son was sent home and was in great distress when he tried to explain what had happened.

I think I was so shocked at what had happened to us because I had spent 10 years putting everything I had into the children, particularly my son (with SN and who we had adopted) and my daughter who had died of cancer.

I remember thinking ‘what more do they expect of me? What more do I have to do to prove that my children are the most important thing in the world, that I would do anything to keep them safe?’

The thing that had kept me going after my daughter was the knowledge that I had done everything I could for her and I had felt proud that we had fought for our son. That he had been handed to us out of the blue because a relative couldn’t care for him and I had dropped everything to take him as one of our own.

But none of that seemed to mean anything and ever since I feel I have lost my credentials as a good mother. I have never been a brilliant or perfect or complacent mother but I knew that I did my best.

And all that seemed to have been snatched from me. For no good reason. Through the unprofessional behaviour of others. To those professionals it was a routine thing that was done and dusted and nothing came of it.

Not to me.

I have done the initial complaint and the response was rubbish. I am still working up to the second one. It is one of the very few times I have wished I was rich. Just so I could pay a solicitor to deal with it (even though its not a strictly legal matter).

The arrogance is breathtaking. I quoted paragraphs from the area guidelines and their own policy and the person dealing with my complaint just ignored the things he couldn’t justify!

I know I have to get on with it but ….GAH…I hate it.


Another experience

I think it shakes your confidence in your ability to keep your child safe to be honest,  and your trust in the health profession as well. Once my son was referred on every professional acknowledged that I was a knowledgeable and experienced parent who handled ds sensitively and that helped a great deal.
Five years after my son’s diagnosis I had my daughter and she restored my confidence, I escaped the pnd and puerperal psychosis, my daughter was a model baby and when she was diagnosed with autism at two it was so smoothly done (No one would have dared doubted me by then).
The anger has gone, I look back and just feel sad now and grateful in a way that it was autism because had it been something life threatening I’m in no doubt that my concerns wouldn’t have been listened to or acted upon until it was too late.
I’ve done the tribunal and judicial review to get my son into independent specialist school so you have my sympathy but I learned from my complaint to keep meticulous notes and they helped enormously.


My son was my fourth child, I was never neurotic, I had never expressed any concerns about the others, never needed any support and the others thrived. Suddenly that all counted for nothing, they totally dismissed that I knew what the average child should be able to do and my son was nothing like average.
I even said I thought it was autism (because my son presented as classical autism and I was looking for reasons why) but that was seen as being proof it was MBP. The psychiatrist himself asked for referral for assessment for autism because it was so obvious and yet the GPs thought they knew better than the psychiatrist and the SALT.


Their arrogance astounds me to this day.
The HV was forced to retire soon after my complaint when a baby nearly died because of her advice but the GPs are still there and it’s an open secret in this area that if a child enters school with developmental difficulties that haven’t been noticed or addressed the child is at that practise so my complaint counted for nothing in the end.
Hang in there,  go through every complaints procedure, it’s bloody frustrating but I got a little pleasure knowing I was giving them extra work and they were shit scared up before the health authority which pleased me no end.

You may also be interested in our post  – what if the doctors don’t believe my child is really ill?

8 thoughts on “The impact of investigation and the need for professionalism

  1. Eeyore Incognito

    These experiences are very sad, but kudos to the parents for having the confidence and staying power to fight. I think they both provide good examples to back suggestions from the Family Rights Group, that parents would benefit from having an independent ear from the start, not only for information but also to give support should a complaint be necessary.

    Would it be helpful also to have a section on here around where to get support and how to complain or appeal at various stages, and what to do if not satisfied with the outcome?

  2. phillimoresarah Post author

    Yes, that is a good suggestion and I have that listed as a very important To Do Post – I want to get clear links up to the Codes of Conduct/ expected ethics of all the professions and set out the routes to complain.

    We also need to expand our knowledge of what support/advocacy services there are out there.

    As ever, if anyone has any contributions or knowledge to share, let us know.

  3. phillimoresarah Post author

    Thanks. It’s about time something positive came out of those interminable mumsnet debates!

  4. Hilary Searing

    It strikes me that parents need to be very clear about whether there are actually grounds for a social worker to become involved. Social workers carry dual responsibilities – for welfare and protection. In the welfare role the focus is on the child’s development in the broadest sense and in providing appropriate services. Social work support is only provided with the voluntary agreement of parents, and parents have the right to decline the offer of an assessment. However, in the child protection role the social worker has powers and duties defined by the 1989 Children Act which includes powers to investigate suspected abuse and neglect. When a sec 47 is carried out social workers are also permitted to obtain confidential information without consent.
    In ‘welfare’ situations there is an important principle of informed consent but I get the impression that social workers are too relaxed about this and tend to forget this principle. This has been clarified by a recent court case and the implications of this for social work practice have been explained in this blog. However, statutory guidance has remained silent on this.
    The stories of these parents suggest some confusion about the reason for social work involvement. It is worrying if some social workers do not understand the difference between ‘welfare concerns’ and ‘risk of significant harm’ and are incapable of explaining this to parents.

  5. phillimoresarah Post author

    Thanks for this comment – from what others have said I think there is a real need to get a post up with more detail about what people can expect from an investigation and what to do if you don’t feel happy about how the investigation is conducted. We will try to get something up soon.

  6. Hilary Searing

    That would be good, Sarah. However, social work practice in this area of work is variable and the profession is in denial about its problems in carrying out Section 47 enquiries.
    Statistics show there has been a steady increase in the number carried out in recent years and about 1% of children age 0-16 in England are now the subject of an investigation. They are supposed to be carried out by skilled and experienced social workers but unfortunately these are rather scarce in some authorities. Social workers need to be mature people who are confident about the use of authority and understand how stressful an investigation is for parents.
    To justify compulsory intervention in a family’s life there must be something unusual – at least something more than the common-place human failure or inadequacy of parents.

  7. Sarah Phillimore

    I agree. I am troubled by lack of experienced workers. It is a job requiring enormous skill and not all of that can be taught.

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