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Clare, Solicitor
Category: Law
Satisfied Customers: 35054
Experience:  I have been a solicitor in High Street Practice since 1985 with a wide general experience.
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Hello. We have a concern that may mean we need legal advice.

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Hello. We have a concern that may mean we need legal advice. It is relating to the care of my Stepson - my Partner's son, who has told us his Mum has been disciplining him by smacking him on the head. We are very concerned about this, and are not sure what to do about it. We have thought through the options and decided that, due to the complicated nature of separated parents, that contacting social services is not the best approach at the moment, and nor is speaking to the child's Mother about it, as he thinks he will be punished for telling us and then may be too scared to tell us things in future. So we thought we would like to see our very good Solicitor for some advice. My Partner is concerned that Solicitors would have a duty to call the Police (which might actually be the thing to do, we don't know), if they are informed there could be a risk to a child, and Partner is concerned we may not then be in control of the situation. I just wondered if someone could tell us what is the position when going to see a Solicitor with concerns about a child being abused. It is difficult for us to know whether this is a minor thing or a more serious thing, but we do have concerns for a number of reasons and we are aware that reports to social services about one parent by another may not be taken seriously so feel legal advice is the first step. I am aware there is a rule of confidentiality, but also a rule of duty. We are trying to decide what to do first. Thank you.
Thank you for your question.
My name is Clare
I will do my best to help you but I need some further information first.
How old is the child and what exactly does he mean by "smacking him around the head"
have any marks been caused?
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Hello. That is what we are not sure at present - whether it is a 'cuff' or something harder but have concerns. We are happy to go and see our Solicitor but want to know about whether or not, if a Solicitor thinks it is more serious, they would feel they had a duty to call the police, or whether they would just advise us on what to do, legally and via social services.

Sorry that doesn't answer your question fully. At present I don't want to go into too much detail on the internet, but am wanting to know hypothetically what would happen in different scenarios, to help us decide on what to do next.

Customer: replied 3 years ago.
Relist: Incomplete answer.
My apologies for the delay.
Without knowing the age of the child it is almost impossible to answer your query with any degree of confidence
If anyone has reason to believe that child is at risk of physical abuse they are duty bound to report it to Social Services - and Solicitors are no exception to this - however much depends on whether or not the Solicitor actually feels that there is a serious risk of abuse
If the child is at primary school then the first step shoudl be to speak to the school and ask if they have any concerns about the child, and whether or not there is a counsellor at the school who could speak to the child to check that all is well. (It would NOT be wise to mention why)
If the child is at Secondary school then matters are less clear cut - but the same process is possible
I am sorry not to give a more clear cut answer
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Thank you very much. We have been going round in circles and also came to the conclusion asking the school for a counsellor might be a good idea. My Partner's son has told us both his Mum is hitting him round the head on a regular basis. I believe him because he was so upset. There is no sign of any injury but it must be dangerous. The school told us he has been having short term memory problems, and his Mum is trying to get him diagnosed with dyspraxia. That rings alarm bells for me. My Partner is more pragmatic and thinks it can't be that bad or he would have bruising or a lump. I think it is bad but I don't know what we can do. My Partner has decided he doesn't want to see a Solicitor - he thinks it could cause more problems if it either isn't true or we can't prove it. I think the school counsellor idea is a good one. But I think the little boy will be too scared of making his Mum angry to tell anyone else. I wondered if we could go to a Solicitor and asked for an emergency order to keep him here while something is investigated, and apply to have him live with us, but we have always been wary of getting into legalities. But I think the only way to be sure it doesn't happen is to remove him. Partner is sticking his head in the sand a bit now. Little boy is 6 and at Primary school. I have been involved with him since he was 18 months old and he lives with us about a third of the time.

What would you advise someone who came to you in this situation please?

I would agree with you that this is a complicated position, and one where you need to tread carefully.
I would warn you that the chances of getting an emergency Order are slim AT THIS STAGE.
I would suggest a two fold approach.
Encourage the child to talk to the school counsellor and remind him he can tell them anything . Use the short term memory/dyspraxia issue as a reason for speaking to the counsellor and saying you are not sure if something else is bothering the child - then leave the counsellor to coax it out.
At the same time suggest that you use Family mediation to discuss a united way forward when it comes to dealing with the problems - and within the discussions bring up issues of discipline and see if you can coax more information out
None of this is perfect I know - and obviously of the situation gets worse you may have no option but to contact social services - but do try every other option first.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Thank you very much. We have told him we are thinking what to do and if he has any problems before Friday to speak to one of his teachers. He has said when we have thought what to do he wants to know what it is and to have a say and be the one to decide if it is a good idea or not.

His Mum and Dad have never lived together - he has had two homes since birth. He has had so many upheavals at Mum's end and social services were involved about two years ago after and incident between his Mum and stepbrother. They moved to a different locally authority shortly afterwards. We thought there must be a record of this but I have just read that if someone moves to a different authority the records don't go with them. Stepdad and the other stepbrother have now moved out and Mum is now not able to see her stepsons after some incident involving an argument and a slap. We only know these things from our little boy, although we were told about social services two years ago and had always hoped counselling would have been offered then.

I would have thought - if seeking legal advice and a child says this has happened, that this would be taken seriously. I don't think the school has a counselling service, but will check. One thing we wondered though, is how we could ask for counselling without little boy's Mum being informed of this by the school. She would see that as threatening and try to stop it we think.

Did Social Services not speak to your partner when they were involved two years ago?
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

No. We have always been kept out of the loop re anything family or medical. They did live in a different local authority to us so that may have been part of it, and also little boy's Mum was in the habit of putting stepdad down as his Dad sometimes. The schools have always been good about giving information and dealing with both parents though. Child's Mum told my Partner she had contacted social services because she had to because child was running round school telling everyone his stepbrother had pulled a knife. Her take on it was stepbrother was the one with the problem and he was then sent to live with his own Mother. Sorry this sounds complicated. Little boy's Mum and my Partner never lived together - he was the result of them dating for a few weeks and wasn't known about until Mum was 6 months pregnant. Mum got married just over 3 years ago to a divorced man with two boys who had residency of his boys. Because he had such a good access schedule with the boys Mother, we got the same access schedule. He has been a good influence on her but they separated early this year after she had problems with the other stepbrother who has now also gone to live with his own Mum and Stepdad has moved out but seems to be around a lot as they had another child together who is a toddler at the moment.

I did look up about whether it was possible to get hold of the social services report from two years ago, but all I found was a form that said the only person who could apply to see it is the child it was about (presumably the older stepbrother). I also read somewhere that once a family has moved out of a local authority that details don't get passed on and that a new authority can't get details of a history from a different local authority, which made us feel a bit underconfident about their procedures - but I'm not sure if this is right.

It seems to mainly have been 'arguments' between little boy's Mum, who has arguments with everyone it seems. And yes they sound like they have been over the top but we don't know how bad. I was concerned after the second stepbrother moved out, that our little boy would be the one left in the line of fire, and this seems to be the case.

I have just realised, I have put rather a lot of personal details that could be recognised. Is this confidential or could someone come across it if googling with a similar scenario? If so I might need to edit some of it when finished. Thanks.

Does all your information come via the child?
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

The information about being hit comes from the child yes. And the arguments we have heard about have come from the child, but also some from Stepdad after he moved out, plus we have been on the receiving end of a fair few threats ourselves over the years! Child sometimes says Mummy says he can't come here any more if he does such and such again. He is so well behaved it worries me really. But I see the point - my other half is wondering if child is wanting to find a way to come and live here as he has seen his two stepbrothers move out and go and live with their other parent. But I do believe him about the hitting. His Mum has always used smacking as punishment and told my partner this, and particularly since coming out of nappies. He is still in nappies at night there, but dry here and most of the punishments seem to be about wetting his pants and getting his coat dirty and not doing his chores properly (according to him). The hitting round the head seems to be quite recent.

So there is a great deal more to worry about than just the head hitting.
What has Step dad said about the treatment of the children (and yes I know he is biased)
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

We don't know. When they were still married he seemed to be a good influence - now they live in separate houses but still seem to be having a relationship. Little boy has complained recently (understandably) that he never sleeps in one place for more than 1 night until he comes here every other week-end. One night at stepdad's one night at his Mum's alternately and overnights here in between. He says 'they are just doing what they want'. Our little boy goes to Stepdad's without Mum sometimes when stepdad has his boys there for the week-end, so our little boy is there with his stepbrothers and half brother. He says that is the only time he has any fun. We assume they are living separately so stepdad can see his boys without them having contact with our little boy's Mum and that they have a normal relationship in between and go on holiday together. Stepdad avoids speaking to my Partner these days and I get the impression he is looking out for his own little boy who is just a toddler. He doesn't seem to be sticking up for our little boy like he used to so maybe he has his own issues now.

Sorry - it gets more and more complicated. The picture I get is that little boy gets very little attention from his Mum and what he does get is negative. He has to do chores (not a bad thing) and look after his little brother and he says that is all he does before and after school and is regularly sent to his room without his supper if he does something wrong. He quite clearly says he can't know how to do chores or look after little brother properly unless someone shows him how to do it and it's not fair to tell him off if no-one has shown him how to do it properly.

He spent a heck of a lot of time in nursery when he was a baby. 12 hours a day except for the days that we had him here and we would pick him up at lunch-time. His Mum was working part-time but still left him the full 12 hours and left him with neighbours at the week-end while she went shopping. Things improved a lot for him when she got married and he suddenly had a ready made family, but it all went wrong.

I have always worried about him. He is happy as larry when here so it is hard to imagine his life somewhere else. We see no signs of dyspraxia, flat feet, balance problems or bed-wetting all of which are being investigated. Partner is going to try and contact GP to ask to be involved in medical decisions, but that won't go down well.

Partner is male and pragmatic - thinks legal things may not work and he would be worse off in care, so until now we have just made sure he is here every 3 or 4 days so we can keep an eye on things, and he is here for long periods during the holidays. But I am wondering if little boy has just reached the end of his tether and needs help.

There is no question of the boy going into care.
If for any reason his mother is not deemed fit to care for him then the child will be moved to live with his father and you.
From what you have said there are indeed clear signs that this little boy needs help and may be coming to the end of his emotional tether.
Your partner deeds to be in closer contact with the school about the problems - and whether they not ice any difference when the child spends the weekends with you
He should also directly ask Social Services if they are in anyway involved with his son.
Clare and other Law Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Thank you. I appreciate your help. I am in a state now because something has happened. She has just stopped access out of the blue and it seems a bit of a coincidence when child has just told us about the hitting. The reason given was because he forgot to bring something back from our house today and he has to be punished and pay the consequences. Initially it was just stopping this week-end but my Partner reacted and said she couldn't just stop him coming here this week-end so she has stopped him coming altogether and said he will have to go to court. I am happy to pay a bigger fee as I realise this has become another question. But we need to do something in an emergency now. What should we do?

I'm going to close this now and we will see a Solicitor in the morning. Thank you for your help. It has been a really stressful week and we are both now in tears.