Principles for Working with Foreign Authorities in Child Protection Cases
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter provides a 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;
- 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; and
- Sign-posts to other relevant guidance.
 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 their local authority lawyer.
The principles set out below are intended to help children's social workers in England to decide when to involve foreign authorities in child protection cases.
Timeliness and Planning
Social workers need to consider working with foreign authorities at a number of stages during child protection cases, including:
- When carrying out a Single Assessment 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 should consider informing the relevant foreign authority; and
- When contacting or assessing potential carers abroad (such as extended family members).
For more information on who to contact, please see Section 2, Working with Colleagues Abroad.
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 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 need to weigh the advantages of obtaining this information against the potential damage to the child of a delay in proceedings.
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, UK General Data Protection Regulations (UK GDPR) 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Hague Convention 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. For more information see Cross-Border Child Protection Cases Under the 1996 Hague Convention.
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.
Social workers should be mindful of immigration issues when looking to place a child abroad. 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.
 Paragraph 47(iii) of the judgement by Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division, in the case of Re E (A Child)  EWHC 6 (Fam) given on 14 January 2014.
2. Working with Colleagues Abroad
There are a number of different agencies who may be able to help social workers in working with colleagues abroad. Information about these agencies is set out below.
It is inadvisable for an English social worker to travel overseas to work on cases unless they have first contacted the relevant foreign authority. English social workers' qualifications may not be automatically recognised overseas, and it is therefore important to check that the social worker has the appropriate licences and legal cover to undertake this work.
3. International Child Abduction and Contact Unit (ICACU)
In cases where the child has links to a foreign country, 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 may also contact a local authority in response to a request received from the Central Authority of another country about a child here.
The 1996 Hague Convention requires each country to establish a Central Authority to help ensure effective communication between contracting states to the 1996 Hague Convention on the aspects of the protection of children covered by the instruments. The day-to-day administration of the Central Authority in England for the 1996 Hague Convention is discharged by the ICACU which is located in the Office of the Official Solicitor and Public Trustee (OSPT).
When making a new request via ICACU the request should clearly be headed 'New Request' and any key date such as a hearing date in court proceedings or the date of a child protection conference should be clearly identified and prominent.
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
Phone (International Child Abduction Unit): 020 3681 2756
5. 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 not 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)).
6. 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)
7. 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)
8. UK Visas and Immigration
General immigration enquiries can be directed to the UK Visas and Immigration Contact Centre.
UK Visas and ImmigrationTelephone: 0300 123 2241
9. Further Guidance
Below are links to further supporting guidance and resources that you might find helpful:
- Cross-border child protection cases the 1996 Hague Convention
This is advice from the Department for Education. The advice is non-statutory, and is designed to help local authorities when dealing with cross-border child protection cases under the 1996 Hague Convention;
- The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations - Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review
The guidance is issued as part of a suite of statutory guidance which, together with the 2010 Regulations, set out how local authorities should carry out the full range of responsibilities in relation to care planning, placement and review for looked after children.