Lots of professionals could be involved in the case about your child – people like social workers, doctors, health visitors, and teachers.
Here are some tips to help you work with the social workers and other professionals you may meet.
Getting ready to meet a social worker or other professional
It’s OK to ask questions. Make a list of your most important questions. Or get someone else to write them down for you.
Ask a friend, family member or support worker to go to the meeting with you.
Ask your friend, family member or support worker to write down the most important things the professional says.
This meeting may be very difficult for you but you need to try and stay calm during it.
A Roma family from Romania lived in a small flat. They struggled to pay utility bills and had large rent arrears. The father worked long hours to earn enough money for them to live on. The mother was pregnant and occasionally left her two young children (aged 3 and 5) at home with her 13-year-old daughter so that she could attend various medical appointments.
A neighbour noticed that the children were left at home alone with a teenager and contacted Children’s Services. Social workers made an unannounced visit with a Romanian interpreter. The mother doesn’t understand Romanian properly and got increasingly frustrated as the conversation went on. She started to raise her voice, used swear words, became very emotional and, in the end, threatened to kill herself if her children were removed. The children were frightened and distressed. As a result, the social workers became even more concerned about the mother’s behaviour.
Another member of the family contacted a Roma community organisation immediately. They provided a bilingual Roma support worker who helped the mother to understand the situation, to feel listened to and to express herself better. The mother calmed down as did the children. Communication between the mother and the social workers improved significantly. They were able to discuss what support the mother needed to help her manage her current situation better.
Understanding what a social worker or other professional says
If a social worker or other professional wants to talk about your children, it’s important you understand what they say to you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand. If you don’t feel confident to do this on your own, ask for help from your local children’s centre or a community organisation working with Roma. If you don’t ask any questions, they will probably think you understand everything and that you agree with them.
You could say: ‘I would like to check that I understand what you said.’ Then tell them what you think they’ve told you. Then you could say: ‘Have I got that right?’
Or you could say: ‘I don’t understand. Please can you explain that again?’
If you don’t understand some of the words they say, ask them to explain them.
There is no shame in asking questions because you don’t understand the child protection process. It is complicated and difficult to understand for everyone – including people whose first language is English and who have lived in England all their lives.
Asking for an interpreter
If you don’t feel confident understanding or speaking English, ask for an interpreter.
Tell the social worker or other professional what language you need the interpreter to speak. You could say: ‘My first language is Romanes. Please can I have a Roma interpreter?’ (This may not be possible as there are not a lot of Roma interpreters, but it is worth asking.)
The interpreter should translate every word they hear. If you don’t think your interpreter is doing this, you should tell the social worker or other professional. The interpreter may need to explain some difficult words, words that may not exist in your language or may mean something different.
You should also tell them if you don’t understand the interpreter or the interpreter doesn’t understand you or isn’t being fair to you.
It’s OK to ask the social worker or other professional to get a different interpreter if that would help you talk about your child and your family.
Social workers had tried working with a Roma family from Slovakia for 2 years to provide early help. The family were not engaging – not providing information they were asked for, not attending meetings, not asking or answering questions. As a result there was little change in how they cared for their children.
A support worker from a local community organisation visited the family to explain the serious position they were in, that if they carried on not engaging there was a risk they might lose their children. This was exactly what the family were frightened about. They thought the way to stop this happening was to have as little contact as possible with the social workers.
The support worker was able explain in both Slovakian and Romanes that the social workers were there to help them and did not want to remove their children unless they had no choice. She was also able to explain the difficult words used by the social workers using everyday language and examples. She helped the family understand what Children’s Services expected them to do and how to make those changes.
As a result, the family started attending meetings, went to the community centre playgroup, talked with the health visitor, and asked questions about how to best care for their children. The children are now developing well. Both the family and the social workers can see the difference and are happy with the progress that has been made.
Social workers and other professionals can ask you questions that might make you feel uncomfortable. Although they are only doing their job, it’s OK for you to explain that in your culture it’s not allowed to speak about some subjects in mixed (male/female) company. This doesn’t mean you can avoid talking about these things but it may help the social worker or other professional think carefully about how to talk to you about the subject.
If you feel uncomfortable, perhaps because the professional is a different gender or much older or younger than you, it’s important that you say this. You can ask to speak to someone closer to your own age or the same gender as you if they want to ask questions about a sensitive subject, like your physical or mental health or whether and how much you use alcohol or drugs.
If you try to avoid answering their questions or seem secretive or defensive, this just invites the social worker or other professional to keep on asking more and more detailed questions until they are satisfied.
Understanding what a social worker or other professional is worried about
If a social worker or other professional is worried that your child isn’t safe or well looked after, make sure you understand what they think the problem is.
You could say:
- What is it you think I need to change or stop doing?
- What do I need to do instead?
- What is the standard you want me to meet?
- What does success look like?
Ask your friend, family member or support worker to write down the most important things they say.
It’s very important that you understand what you must do to keep your child in your family. If you don’t understand or aren’t clear about what you need to change or do differently or how to make these changes, ask the social worker or other professional to explain it to you. Ask them to confirm what they say in writing.
Understanding when and why your child may be seen by another professional
A social worker may say that they want someone else, for example, a children’s doctor to see your child.
In this situation, it’s OK to ask the social worker questions to help you decide whether or not to agree to this, such as:
- Who are they?
- What is their job?
- Why do they need to see my child?
- What do they want to find out?
- Will they see my child on their own or together with me?
- If I can’t be there, is it OK if another member of my family or a friend goes to the appointment?
- When will I get to see their report?
Medical condition or disability
If your child has a medical condition or a disability you may need support to look after them. Although you know your child well, you may not have important information about your child’s condition that would help you to look after them or manage their disability better. There’s no shame in asking for this help. It could help you and your child have a better life.
A Roma family came to England from the Czech Republic. The father works long hours, six days a week in a factory. The mother is pregnant and looks after their three children. Their oldest child, Yvetka, has autism and is also profoundly deaf. The mother finds it difficult to look after her younger children and cope with her disabled child.
The school became concerned about Yvetka’s behaviour in school. They invited the parents into school to talk about the problem but they didn’t go. The school then referred the family to Children’s Services.
A social worker visited the family and realised that the parents didn’t understand what autism was and couldn’t use British Sign Language. She explained autism to the parents and organised services to help the parents support Yvetka in everyday situations and manage her challenging behaviour. The mother started going to British Sign Language classes so that she could use it to communicate with Yvetka.
The social worker made sure that the school understood the parent’s situation and that they provided specialist support in school for Yvetka. She also arranged after-school activities for Yvetka to allow her mum to spend more time with her younger children.
Getting letters and reports
Letters and reports from social workers or other professionals can be long and complicated. If you get a letter or report that you don’t understand, ask the person who sent it to read it to you face to face or take it to your support worker or solicitor and ask them to read it to you and help you understand it.
Don’t be afraid to say if there’s something in the letter or report that you don’t understand.
It’s OK to ask questions about what’s in the letter or report. If you don’t, they will probably think you understand it.
You could say: ‘I would like to check that I understand what the letter or report says.’ Then tell them what you think it says. Then you could say: ‘Have I got that right?’
Or you could say: ‘I don’t understand. Please can you explain that again?’
If you don’t understand some words or expressions in the letter, ask them to explain them. You could say: ‘What does this mean?’
The letter or report may be translated into a language of your country of origin. But this may not be enough for you to understand every detail. There may be words you don’t understand. It’s OK to say this.
Keeping letters and reports
It’s important that you keep all the letters and reports you get and that you keep them together in one place. If you need help to organise your letters and documents or to understand them ask your local children’s centre or community organisation working with Roma to help you.
Writing letters about your child
If a social worker or other professional wants to write to someone about your child, you can say: ‘I would like to have a copy of any letter you send about my child.’
Don’t sign any documents if you don’t understand what they mean. It’s very important that you understand everything in a document before you sign it and that if by signing the document you are agreeing to do something, that you then follow through and do it.
Before the meeting ends
Before a meeting with a social worker or other professional ends, find out what will happen next. Ask your family member, friend or advocacy worker to write down what the social worker says. You could say:
- What happens now?
- When will it happen?
- What do I need to do next?
- Who should I contact if I have any questions after this meeting?
- Where can I get more information about what’s happening to my family?
- Are there any support groups that can help us?
- Are there any letters or reports written about my child or my family? I would like to have copies of these. (If they say they can’t give you any, ask them what information they will share with you.)
After the meeting
Put any appointment dates somewhere safe – to help you remember so you won’t miss them. Maybe put them in your phone if you have one or buy a calendar and put it somewhere you can always see it. You can mark appointments on the calendar and cross out the date every day so you can see when your next appointment is coming up.
If you don’t get a letter or report the social worker or other professional promised you, it’s OK to remind them or ask your support worker to do this.
Let the social workers know if you move to a different address – so you don’t miss getting important letters about your child.