“Dear lawyer, my husband and I have been separated for two years but, alas, the conflict is still very high. Although I have always encouraged our children to spend time with their dad, unfortunately we have different educational styles and the little ones are suffering. Marco and Andrea (10 and 8 years old), especially since their father lives with their new partner, do not want to go to him anymore. My husband, however, is convinced that I am hindering their relationship and has filed an appeal to change the conditions of separation. The Court has instructed the Social Services to “monitor the family”. What does this entail? Is it a danger to my children? Can they take them away from me?
Dear Madam, unfortunately you are not the first mother to have this kind of fear. Often, in fact, the figure of the “social worker” is linked by parents to people who “invade” the family territory, even being able to decide their fate.
However, it is important to clarify that, even if it is true that the removal of the minor from his / her family does not happen, as one might believe, only in macroscopic situations of violence, but can also derive from the heated conflict between the parents, it is, still, of a well thought-out choice. In fact, fortunately, in the absence of ill-treatment and violence, the radical choice to remove the minor is not so frequent. The conflict, to lead social workers to evaluate the possibility of estrangement from their family, must be “extreme”, spilling over into problems in the management of parenthood and, therefore, be of serious prejudice for the minor.
However, Social Services are not always appointed to assess whether the minor should be removed. Sometimes, from the beginning, they monitor the family and report what has emerged to the Court. Moreover, even in the event of expulsion, the “final” decision is not taken by them, but by the Juvenile Court or, if the separation, divorce or modification procedure is in progress (as in your case), by the Court Ordinary.
Therefore, the Judge, especially in the most difficult situations, makes use of the Social Assistants in order to carry out this delicate task and protect the concrete interest of the minor in the best possible way. Thanks to their intervention, the resources of the family to which the minor belongs are identified, the insuperable limits and those that, on the other hand, thanks to the support and targeted help of experienced professionals, can be easily overcome. The task of the Social Worker is to “enter” the daily life of the family and to bring out the strengths and weaknesses of the parents.
In this way, once the context in which the minor lives has been analyzed and understood, the Court will be able to take a decision that protects that specific family and which does not necessarily have to be the removal of the minor. In fact, the Judge may also resort to less radical and drastic tools, such as the activation of psychological support for parents and / or children or a path to support parenthood.
In your situation, dear Madam, I feel I can exclude the possibility that Marco and Andrea will be estranged from you. In fact, if, as you say, you have always encouraged your children to meet their father and their recent “refusal” derives from the change of life of your husband, who did not know how to match the needs of his children with his personal life choices, you have no reason to fear such a decision by the court. Indeed, if your husband is neglecting their interests, what you now perceive as a “threat” to your family may even be a “salvation”. The intermediation of Social Workers, in fact, could facilitate communication between you and your husband and quell the conflict.
Returning to the role of the Social Workers, their “voice” is certainly important and the relations with which they update the Court weigh heavily on the final decision, and therefore their task, as well as their responsibilities, should certainly not be minimized.
What must be avoided is the risk of a generalized mistrust towards the Social Services. The consequence would be to push families living in a climate of violence to hide it for fear that the report will then lead to the removal of the minor, or, in any case, to a punitive intervention, rather than support. Therefore, it is necessary to trust and trust and, above all, to avoid that the anxiety of the interference of “third persons” in one’s most intimate sphere alters reality, leading the social workers themselves to incorrect evaluations.
* Attorney Maria Grazia Persico – Bernardini de Pace Law Firm