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1.2.13 Working with Foreign Authorities in Child Protection Cases

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This chapter provides an updated summary of Departmental advice issued by the Department for Education in 2014 on Working with Foreign Authorities in Child Protection Cases. It provides the following:

  • A set of principles for social workers when working on child protection cases where the child has links to a foreign country [1];
  • A summary of the main international legislation;
  • Information about where social workers should go for help when seeking to obtain information or contacts abroad about a child and/or their family;
  • Outlines Lincolnshire's procedure for processing Article 55 co-operation requests from the ICACU; and
  • Sign-posts to other relevant guidance.

[1] A child with links to a foreign country may be a foreign national child, a child with dual nationality or a British child of foreign national parents/origin.

This advice is non-statutory and the principles are not a complete statement of domestic and international law. The principles are based on the normal approaches social workers take and, as such, the child’s welfare is paramount and should always be put first. Social workers should make decisions on a case by case basis and where necessary seek advice from Lincolnshire Legal Services.

The Advice is for:

  • Primarily for frontline social workers, their team managers and service managers working with children and families; and
  • Children’s services lawyers and children and family court advisory and support service officers.

RELATED GUIDANCE

DfE, Working with Foreign Authorities: Child Protection Cases and Care Orders - Departmental Advice for Local Authorities, Social Workers, Service Managers and Children’s Services Lawyers (2014)

International Child Abduction and Contact Unit (ICACU)

GOV.UK, ICACU Request for Co-operation Form and Guide to Completing the Request for Co-operation Form (2016)

AMENDMENT

This chapter was updated in August 2016 to include additional guidance under the sub-headings of Assessments and Child Placement Abroad.

In addition, links to the new International Child Abduction and Contact Unit (ICACU) Guide to Completing the Request for Co-operation Form and ICACU Request for Co-operation Form have been added to Section 1, Principles.


Contents

  1. Principles
  2. International Legislation
  3. International Child Abduction and Contact Unit (ICACU)
  4. External Organisations and Agencies
  5. Voluntary Sector Organisations
  6. Further Guidance


1. Principles

The principles set out below are intended to help social workers in to decide when to involve foreign authorities[1] in child protection cases.

1.1 Timeliness and Planning

Social workers and their managers need to plan and consider working with foreign authorities at a number of stages during Child Protection cases where a child has links to a foreign country, including:

  • When carrying out a Social Care Assessment (see Social Care Assessments Procedure) under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989, where the child has links to a foreign country, in order to understand the child’s case history and/or to help them to engage with the family;
  • When a child with links to a foreign country becomes the subject of a Child Protection Plan, has required immediate protection, or is made subject to Care Proceedings, the social worker and their manager should consider informing the relevant foreign authority; and
  • In cases where the social worker is considering working with a foreign authority it may be advisable to seek legal advice; and
  • When contacting or assessing potential carers abroad (such as extended family members).

For more information on who to contact, please see Section 3, International Child Abduction and Contact Unit (ICACU).

Information requested from colleagues abroad is likely to have a much longer turnaround time, as time may be needed to arrange translations and for discussions between authorities within a State. Social workers and their managers should factor this into their plans to avoid any delay in proceedings. If a foreign authority is not forthcoming with timely information on family members in their country, and this information is not available from the parents or any other source, social workers and their managers need to weigh the advantages of obtaining this information against the potential damage to the child of a delay in proceedings.

[1] The foreign authority may be the Central Authority in a contracting State of the 1996 Hague Convention or Member State of the EU, or the foreign Embassy/High Commission/Consulate in London.

1.2 Requests for Co-operation to the ICACU

Please see Section 3, International Child Abduction and Contact Unit (ICACU).

When making requests to ICACU for any information on family members in a foreign country or for assessment of family members, the Social Worker completing the form needs to be mindful of the following:

  • Do I have enough information to make this request now? This will avoid potentially having to make more than one request;
  • Make sure the information you give is accurate and clear;
  • Be clear about why you need this information and timescales for this;
  • Avoid using jargon and clearly explain what you are asking about rather than perhaps using a generalised term such as 'Emotional harm' which may not be a concept recognised in the Country from which you are seeking the information.

Please refer to the following:

1.3 Information Sharing and Data Protection

Sharing of information between professionals and agencies is essential for effective identification, assessment and service provision. Fears about sharing information cannot be allowed to stand in the way of the need to promote the welfare and protect the safety of children. However, the disclosure of any information should be appropriate and proportionate and in line with the Data Protection Act and other relevant legislation. Social workers should not request or provide information if to do so could put the child or their property at risk, or would threaten the life or liberty of a member of the child’s family. Social workers should not provide information if to do so would constitute a criminal offence or contempt of court or be contrary to data protection legislation. If this is a matter of concern, legal advice should be sought. If, in potential contempt of court cases, the social worker considers it is in the child’s interests to disclose information, the social worker must seek the court’s leave to do so. Where necessary, you should provide handling instructions to the authorities in the chain of communication to ensure that information is handled appropriately.

Social workers should inform the relevant Embassy/High Commission/Consulate when a child with links to a foreign country has become the subject of a Child Protection Plan, has required immediate protection or has become the subject of Care Proceedings, unless doing so is likely to place the child or family in danger and provided any necessary consent to disclose information has been obtained. Decisions should be linked to a robust and thorough risk assessment.

Foreign Embassies are keen to be informed, and where appropriate involved, in Child Protection cases or Care Proceedings involving children with links to their country both to potentially provide support to the families involved at an earlier stage, and so that they can be prepared for any media attention.

If there is any dispute between the foreign authority and Lincolnshire County Council, the matter needs to be referred to the Children's Service Manager and legal advice should be sought. If there is likely to be media attention, the social workers' manager needs to seek advice from the Communication and Public Relations Team by contacting john.giblin@lincolnshire.gov.uk.

It is important to note that if no-one has already informed the relevant foreign Embassy/High Commission/Consulate that a child with a foreign connection is the subject of Care Proceedings prior to the case going to court, then the court should normally do so itself without delay. If the court decides not to inform the consular officials, it will give reasons. It is therefore good practice to share with the court whether the relevant Embassy/High Commission/Consulate has been informed, and if not the reasons for this decision.

1.4 Assessment

A good assessment should systematically draw on all the evidence available so that the social worker can make an informed decision. Social workers should consider working with colleagues abroad when assessing a family with links abroad, unless doing so is likely to place the child or family in danger. This may provide a more holistic picture, and help the social worker understand the unique characteristics of a child within their family, cultural, religious, ethnic and community context.

Rather than commission interpreters and external social workers, one local authority has developed a contact list of social workers in other authorities it can contact who share the culture and language of the country where members of the child’s family live. As well as saving time on commissioning external services, the authority has found that a social worker who knows the language and culture can find their way “around the system” in that country; this can help to avoid pitfalls. It also helps provide essential information about a particular country, for example, around the education and care system, cost of living etc. It has found that assessments that do not rely on the use of an interpreter can be richer because they can pick up nuances of meaning in way interpreters are unable to do so.

It is helpful to share experience and knowledge across local authority areas. The Ministry of Justice has created a secure network on the Knowledge Hub to enable local authority social workers to exchange information on dealing with care cases with an international element, called Local Authority Forum for International Family Casework (LAFIFC). It is an online community for professionals to ask questions, identify risks early on, and locate essential information so that the right decisions can be made as soon as possible in the interests of children.

1.4.1 Guidance on Assessments

The following guidance is a summary of how Local Authorities should work with Foreign Authorities (Court of Appeal) following a Court of Appeal Case call re V-Z.

Guidance in the Case of re V-Z

The Court of Appeal allowed the mother's appeal of care orders and placement orders granted in respect of her four children.

Black LJ provided the following guidance for cases requiring assistance from foreign authorities:

  • If an assessment is required, provide clear and comprehensive questions;
  • Provide all the information required for the assessment or enquiry;
  • Record all the material sent to the foreign authority;
  • Answer queries from the foreign authority arising from the assessment process;
  • After the assessment report is received, any further information required from the foreign authority should be assiduously requested and followed up;
  • If obstacles are encountered, explore creative solutions with the UK Central Authority to ensure a solution may be acceptable to the foreign authorities involved. This may include directly communicating with assessors in the foreign state.

Case: Re V-Z (Children) [2016] EWCA Civ 475 (25 May 2016) (Bailii).

Please refer to the following:

1.5 Social Workers’ Jurisdiction to Complete Assessments Overseas

In some countries, it is illegal for social workers to enter the country to practice social work. Social workers could be in danger of arrest if they seek to complete assessments abroad without the appropriate permissions and any attempt to do so could invalidate their insurance. Social workers’ qualifications may not be automatically recognised overseas, and it is therefore important to check that the social worker has the appropriate licences, permission to enter the country, and legal cover to undertake this work and that the foreign authorities have no objection. Foreign authorities may consider that their local social worker would be better placed to carry out assessments, with an understanding of local culture and resources; it is therefore inadvisable for a social worker to practice overseas without contacting the relevant foreign authority before making any arrangements.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office provides country-specific Foreign travel advice which outlines safety and security when travelling overseas. If it is necessary to send a social worker to travel overseas, it is good practice to send a social worker who has knowledge of the country’s culture and practices.

Social work is a regulated profession in many EU countries, and so permission must still be obtained to practice social work. More information can be found at the EU Single Market Regulated Professions Database.

1.6 Criminal Records Checks

Requests for criminal record checks for records from other Member States should be made to the UKCA-ECR (UK Central Authority for the Exchange of Criminal Records) by emailing to international.request@acro.pnn.police.uk. See the ACRO Website.

Under the Council Decision, UKCA would normally expect to hear back from the distant central authority in 10 working days, with a possibility of extension if more details are needed. Local Authorities are invited to consult UKCA about overall times.

There is a prescribed form for requests for criminal records from other EU Member States. For queries about how to make a request, for further information and to ask for a request form contact:

ACRO International Requests Mailbox: international.request@acro.pnn.police.uk.

Alternatively the ACRO team can be contacted directly on 01489 569808.

1.7 Family Engagement

Social workers should consider with the family at an early stage the potential assistance a foreign Embassy/High Commission/Consulate might be able to provide. They may be able to help the social worker to work with a family and explain any differences in approach to Child Protection clearly and sensitively. This support may make the difference in engaging a family in making the changes needed to provide for the needs of their child.

1.8 Child Placement Abroad

Social workers may need to contact an Embassy/High Commission/Consulate or the Central Authority when considering the placement of a child with family members who live abroad. In Brussels IIa[2] and 1996 Hague Convention[3] cases, permission may need to be sought from the other State before an English court could make an order for placement of the child in that State. Whether consent is required is a question for the other State. If placement abroad is a possibility the social worker should check if the consent of the other State will be required as it may take some time to obtain that consent. See Cross-border Child Protection Cases the 1996 Hague Convention and Advice on Placement of Looked after Children across Member States of the European Union.

Social workers should not assume that a placement (for example with extended family) will not require consent. If any placement abroad is a possibility the social worker should check immediately whether State consent is required before seeking to place a child as it may take some time to obtain that consent and the other country may attach conditions.

An Embassy/High Commission/Consulate may be able to help social workers locate family members or put social workers in touch with the right local child welfare authority. It is good practice to work with colleagues abroad when contacting family members and assessing their suitability as carers for a child. In many cases a social workers counterpart in the other State may be well placed to undertake this work on their behalf. Where this is not appropriate, it is important to check that the English social worker has the appropriate licences and legal cover to undertake the work themselves in the country in question before they travel there.

See A Guide to the Recognition of Professional Qualifications in the EU for further information.

The courts may seek information about the welfare systems and family justice system in a country to which a child is to relocate and this information can be obtained from:

  • The International Child Abduction and Contact Unit, have practical knowledge and experience of the processes and procedures in the other countries which they can usefully share in response to a general enquiry (osenquiries@offsol.gov.uk );
  • The Hague website contains Country Profiles, which are produced by each Hague Convention State, to provide general information on the law of their State in connection with the application of the Convention;
  • The Family Law Global Guide provides country-specific information on family law and practice worldwide, including overviews of issues such as jurisdiction; children; surrogacy and adoption; and family dispute resolution. Please be aware that this information is compiled by international lawyers and has not been validated;
  • The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has produced a list of English-speaking lawyers around the world; and;
  • The Ministry of Justice has created a secure network on the Knowledge Hub to enable local authority social workers to exchange information on dealing with care cases with an international element, called Local Authority Forum for International Family Casework (LAFIFC).

Social workers should be mindful of immigration and documentation issues when looking to place a child abroad. They should clarify how to obtain any necessary paperwork (e.g. passport). They should also consider immigration issues if they wish for family member to travel to England to be assessed as a potential carer for a child. The Home Office’s Border Force, Immigration Enforcement and UK Visa and Immigration officials can work with social workers to ensure that immigration issues relevant to Child Protection Plans or planned visits abroad are identified and considered early in the planning process.

Once children are placed abroad, social workers should make sure that the child’s guardian has the correct paperwork, recognised by their home authorities, to prove their legal status as long-term carers, including original and translated copies of court orders, and the child’s birth certificate, school and medical records. It is advisable to support the carer to seek specialist legal advice in the country where the child will reside. Failure to do this could place the child at risk as the child’s carer might not be recognised as their legal guardian. In rare cases, it may be possible to mirror the order in the other country.

Social workers should also work with overseas authorities to put support plans in place and work out a contingency plan in case the placement breaks down. If the child has entitlement to British citizenship, it is good practice to ensure that they have been registered as a British citizen[4] to give them leave to re-enter the UK, for example to access higher education or if the placement breaks down.

[2] Council Regulation (EC) No 2201/2003 (also known as Brussels II bis or Brussels II Rebised) of 27 November 2003 concerning jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgements in matrimonial matters and the matters of parental responsibility.
[3] 1996 Hague Convention on Jurisdiction, Applicable Law, Recognition, Enforcement and Co-operation in respect of Parental Responsibility and measures for the Protection of Children
.
[4] Further information regarding registering as a British Citizen - https://www.gov.uk/register-british-citizen.


2. International Legislation

There are two key international law instruments that apply in child protection cases, depending on the country in question and the plan for the child:

  • For EU Member States local authorities must comply with Brussels IIa including Article 55 and Article 56;
  • Local authorities must also comply with requirements under the 1996 Hague Convention in relation to countries that have ratified it (known as ‘contracting states’);
  • The Department for Education has produced advice on the 1996 Hague Convention (see Cross-border Child Protection Cases the 1996 Hague Convention), which is also relevant to the practical application of Brussels IIa.


3. International Child Abduction and Contact Unit (ICACU)

(See International Child Abduction and Contact Unit (ICACU).)

Brussels IIa and the 1996 Hague Convention require each participating country to establish at least one Central Authority. Central authorities are required to cooperate on the administration of applications and requests and ensure effective communication on the aspects of the protection of children covered by the instruments. The day-to day Central Authority functions for England and Wales for Brussels IIa and for England for the 1996 Hague Convention are carried out by the International Child Abduction and Contact Unit (ICACU) for ingoing and outgoing requests.

3.1 Co-operation Requests made to the ICACU

In cases where the child has links to a foreign country which is either an EU Member State or a contracting state to the 1996 Hague Convention, the ICACU is the primary point of contact. The ICACU becomes involved when it receives a request from either a local authority here or from the Central Authority of another country.

Social workers will wish to consider contacting the ICACU:

  • When a child with links to a foreign country becomes the subject of a Child Protection Plan, has required immediate protection, or is made subject to Care Proceedings;
  • If it is appropriate to request information about family members abroad; or
  • About the child’s personal history and background if the child has lived abroad.

The ICACU has developed a form and guidance notes for local authorities to use in child protection cases to make a request for co-operation to another country. This is where social workers need to make a request for co-operation to another country, either to ask for information or assistance; or to share information with the other country's authorities.

Please refer to the following:

The aim of the form is to:

  • Help local authorities check that their request is covered by the Brussels IIa regulation or the Hague Convention;
  • Reduce delay and improve care planning for the child where the case has an international element;
  • Help local authorities make better formulated requests for information or assistance to the other country; and
  • Improve communication when sharing information about the child with the other country.

The form can be completed by a local authority lawyer or social worker. The ICACU’s internal target for sending new requests to the other country is 15 working days.

There are no time limits in Brussels IIa or the 1996 Hague Convention for responding to a request for co-operation. It is therefore important that the request is relevant, focussed and made on a timely basis (as soon as the need for information is identified). It should be noted that the other country may need to make their own internal enquiries before responding. For all these reasons it is important that the local authority provides enough information and/or supporting documents and/or reasons to enable the foreign authorities to understand the request and respond to it. The information provided should include full names and dates of birth of relevant family members and last known address(es) in the other country. The type and extent of the information provided should be balanced against any safety concerns and limits.

If the request is for assessments then social workers should consider explaining for the benefit of the foreign authorities the purpose of the assessment and what issues the local authority would find helpful to have covered in the assessment.

Please note that the ICACU will not inform the Embassy/High Commission/Consulate where a child is made the subject of a Child Protection Plan, has required immediate protection; and/or has become the subject of Care Proceedings, as this is not a central authority function.

The International Child Abduction and Contact Unit
Victory House
30-34 Kingsway
London
WC2B 6EX

Tel: 020 3681 2608
General enquiries email: enquiries@offsol.gov.uk
Fax: 020 3681 2763

New requests only email: ICACU@offsol.gov.uk
Website: International Child Abduction and Contact Unit
The International Child Abduction and Contact Unit is open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm.

3.2 Co-operation Requests Received from the ICACU

The Regulation and Conventions place an emphasis on international co-operation in order to achieve the objectives of the Regulation and Convention and central authorities play a key role in facilitating international co-operation. In particular the central authority in each country is the contact point for communication with domestic courts and competent authorities and with the central authority in the other country. In the Regulation the co-operation provisions are contained in Chapter IV (please see Articles 55 and 56 in particular) and in the 1996 Hague Convention the co-operation provisions are in Chapter V (please see in particular Articles 30, 33 and 34).

The ICACU handles co-operation requests both into and out of this jurisdiction.

The ICACU may contact Lincolnshire County Council in response to a request received from the Central Authority of another country about a child here and under the Regulations and Conventions outlined above we have a statutory duty to respond. All Article 55 requests should be made directly to Legal Services as outlined below and not via the Customer Services Centre.

To make a co-operation request to Lincolnshire County Council, the following procedures are to be followed:

  • Co-operation requests should be made directly from the ICACU who are the primary source of contact for such requests;
  • The ICACU will forward any co-operation requests directly to Lincolnshire Legal Services for processing and progressing;
  • Requests are to be emailed to Legal_Children@lincolnshire.gov.uk who will allocate the request to a Legal Services Lawyer who will liaise directly with the ICACU and advise the Team Manager for the area where the child lives what action is required and the appropriate timescale for compliance with the request;
  • The Legal Services Lawyer will process the request under the retainer for the team where the child lives/has lived in Lincolnshire;
  • Should a co-operation request be made to the Customer Service Centre (CSC), the CSC will redirect the request to Legal_Children@lincolnshire.gov.uk and advise the ICACU of the correct procedure to direct any future requests to Legal Services.


4. External Organisations and Agencies

4.1 Foreign Embassies, High Commissions and Consulates

Whilst the resources available vary from one foreign Embassy/High Commission/Consulate to another, they may be able to assist in the following ways:

  • Provide contact with the social services in the home country;
  • Explain applicable child protection laws in the context of the customs and laws of the family’s home country;
  • Help search for relatives;
  • Obtain official documents;
  • Make travel arrangements;
  • In some cases offer translation and interpretation services.

Where appropriate, social workers will wish to consider contacting the relevant Embassy/High Commission/Consulate when a child with links to a foreign country becomes the subject of a Child Protection Plan, has required immediate protection or has become the subject of Care Proceedings.

In cases where the child has links with a foreign country which is neither an EU Member State or a contracting state to the 1996 Hague Convention (and therefore outside the remit of ICACU), the local authority may also wish to consider contacting the Embassy/High Commission/Consulate:

  • To request information about family members abroad; or
  • To request information on the child’s personal history and background, if the child has lived abroad.

A list of embassies and consulates contact details can be found at: Contact an Embassy (GOV.UK website).

The London Diplomatic List contains the addresses and contact details of all Embassies and High Commissions in London. This website is usually updated monthly.

It is advisable for family matters to contact the Consular Section of the relevant Embassy or High Commission.

4.2 UK Central Authority for the Exchange of Criminal Records (UKCA-ECR)

The UKCA-ECR’s main responsibility is exchanging criminal record information with Member States in the European Union (EU).

Address: UK Central Authority for the Exchange of Criminal Records
PO Box 481
Fareham,
PO14 9FS
Tel: +44 (0)1962 871 609
Email: UKCA@acro.pnn.police.uk

4.3 UK Visas and Immigration

General immigration enquiries can be directed to the UK Visas and Immigration Contact Centre.

UK Visas and Immigration

Telephone: 0300 123 2241
Website: https://www.gov.uk/contact-ukvi/overview


5. Voluntary Sector Organisations

5.1 Children and Families Across Borders (CFAB)

CFAB is the UK branch of the International Social Service (ISS) network. It aims to promote and protect the rights of family members left vulnerable or at risk through separation by international borders. CFAB provides inter-country casework services, training and advice to local authorities, CAFCASS, solicitors, judges, individuals and families. CFAB also offers a free advice and information helpline for individuals or practitioners facing an inter-country situation. Contact details can be found on this page.

Children and Families Across Borders (CFAB)
Canterbury Court,
Unit 1.03
1-3 Brixton Road
London
SW9 6DE

Telephone: 020 7735 8941
Email: info@cfab.uk.net
Website: http://cfab.org.uk/

5.2 Africans Unite Against Child Abuse (AFRUCA)

With offices in London and Manchester, AFRUCA promotes the welfare of African children in the UK. They also work in partnership with other organisations in Africa and across Europe. Contact details can be found on this page.

Africans Unite Against Child Abuse (AFRUCA)
Unit 3D/F Leroy House
436 Essex Road
London
N1 3QP

Telephone: 0844 660 8607
Website: http://www.afruca.org

5.3 Reunite International

Reunite International Child Abduction Centre specialize in the prevention of the illegal movement of children across international borders. Reunite offers impartial advice, information and support to parents, guardians, and family members concerning all issues related to international parental child abduction, prevention of abduction, international contact issues, and cases of permission to remove a child from the jurisdiction.

Reunite International
PO Box 7124
Leicester,
LE1 7XX

Advice Line: +44 (0)116 2556 234
Tel: +44 (0)116 2555 345
Email: reunite@dircon.co.uk


6. Further Guidance

Below are links to further supporting guidance and resources that you might find helpful:

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