This information about social services is based on England, please do check whether this is applicable to your area of the UK.
Firstly we should point out that, whilst some Home Educating families do get referred to Social Services, it is only a small minority. Out of those the majority of ‘cases’ are closed after an initial assessment (IA).
We have to remember that whilst we hear horror stories of Social Services abusing their powers and removing children in what seem unwarranted circumstances, they do protect lots of children, they do help many families. The general advice we give is to work with the Social Worker, but know your rights and get legal advice if a case goes beyond an IA.
Social Workers have to respond to referals and allegations, in some cases a school makes a referral when they are feeling put out when a family deregisters, some are horrid enough to do it as revenge. It is awful behaviour and, in many of the cases in the last couple of years, the Social Worker has quickly seen this to be malicious. Some schools genuinely think that deregistering is a cause for concern, that the child will be socially isolated or at risk of abuse; these schools are not malicious, they are ignorant to how Home Education really works. Again in most cases the Social Worker will see this and not make any further investigation. Some GPs make referrals, so do health visitors and neighbours, again it’s usually through ignorance rather than maliciousness.
When a Social Worker receives a referal about a Home Educated child they usually follow it up by phoning the family, or turning up on the doorstep. Experience shows that they do this because they actually have little to no understanding of Home Education. Whilst legally you do not have to let a Social Worker in, it is often best that you do. If their concerns are severe enough they will come back with the police and a warrant to gain entry. They will not be willing to discuss the details of the case on the doorstep. The usual process, regardless of severity of the referral, is to talk to both parents and often the child on their own (it is worth adding here that at no point are you obliged to leave your child with them alone, you can request another trusted adult be present, this is advisable if possible, or record the discussion with the Social workers knowledge); they will also ask to look around the house, maybe the kitchen cupboards and fridge, they’ll ask to look in the child’s bedroom and in the bathroom. They are looking for things like healthy food, clean cupboards, bedding on the children’s beds and a clean bathroom.
In the majority of cases it is advisable to reiterate to the Social Worker that Home Educators do not have to register or be known to the LA, that the LA does not have a duty to monitor and that it is the parent’s responsibility to ensure the child is educated. There is a PRINT OUT you can hand to them with the law.
Once they have completed their initial assessment you will hear from them, usually a phone call or letter, that the case is closed. Unfortunately some LAs seem to forget to do this and leave the family worrying. If you haven’t heard anything after a month you could write to them asking them to confirm that the case is closed.
If they decide not to close the case, or they offer other services, we recommend that you ask for details in writing of what their concerns are. That way you can address them. We recommend you do that in writing. You may need to meet the Social Worker again; consider taking notes, or recording the meeting.
It is worth considering that at this point if their ONLY concern is Home Education, that you contact us for support. We can not offer support for situations outside of Home Education.
Make sure you find out if their ‘further support needed’ is voluntary. If it is and you don’t feel that you need the support then write to them detailing why you don’t need it, and also how you have and will address their concerns.
If your case turns into further action, such as a child in need or child protection, then we advise getting proper legal support.
There is a government consultation about proposed new EHE (England) guidance. We will be producing a guide ASAP to help you respond, so no need to rush in.
For now, have a read, BUT DO NOT PANIC ABOUT THE PROPOSED CHANGES: