The law relating to children is extremely complex. This is a very brief summary and you should make an appointment to speak with one of our specialist Solicitors to discuss matters further.
Who can make decisions about my child’s care?
The right to decide how a child is raised and cared for rests with people who have ‘parental responsibility’ for him or her. Parental responsibility is the legal term used to describe all the rights and duties that parents (and sometimes other people) have towards their children. For example, it gives you the right to agree to medical treatment for your child, or to your child being taken outside England and Wales.
When a child is born, the mother automatically has parental responsibility. So does the father, if:
- he is married to the mother at any time after the child is born; or
- he is registered as the father on the baby’s birth certificate (for children born after 1 December 2003).
If neither situation applies, the father of the child can still get parental responsibility by:
- making a Parental Responsibility Agreement with the mother; re-registering the child’s birth (if the father was not on the birth certificate and the mother signs a statutory declaration that he is the child’s father);
- applying to the court for a parental responsibility order; or
- applying to the court for a residence order.
A step-parent, including a same-sex registered civil partner, can also obtain parental responsibility by entering into an agreement with each parent who already has parental responsibility. Other people caring for children may also get parental responsibility if they obtain a court order, such as a residence order or special guardianship order.
The local council will get parental responsibility if it obtains a care order from the court. Adoptive parents automatically get parental responsibility when they adopt a child (or a child is placed with them for adoption by an adoption agency). The birth parents and anyone else who had parental responsibility lose it when a child is adopted.
Why would the council get involved in my child’s care?
The Children’s Services Department in your local council is responsible for making sure that children are safe and are well cared for by their parents or the people looking after them.
Sometimes the council receives information that makes them worried about a child’s welfare. If it believes that your child may be harmed, it will investigate and decide whether action is necessary to protect your child (this work is known as ‘child protection’). The council must get the court’s permission to take any action you disagree with. Here ‘court’ means judges or magistrates who make decisions about children.
If the council believes that your child is suffering serious harm or is likely to suffer serious harm, it can apply to the court for a care order (known as ‘care proceedings’). A care order would give the council permission to remove your child from your care. The council should do this only if it thinks this is the best way to ensure your child is properly protected, because:
- the care you are giving (or have given) your child is not what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give; or
- your child is out of your control.
What if the council thinks my child is in immediate danger?
If the council thinks your child is in immediate danger and needs to be made safe straight away, it can take certain steps to protect your child. It can:
- ask the person it believes is a danger to your child to leave the home or keep away from your child;
- discuss with you having your child looked after by the council in a way you agree to (known as ‘voluntary accommodation’);
- ask the police to take your child into ‘police protection’ for up to 72 hours (three days); or
- apply to the court for an ‘emergency protection order’.
If the person who the council believes is a danger to your child agrees to leave the home for the time being while further enquiries and plans are made, then the council can help that person to find somewhere else to stay, including providing them with money to pay for temporary accommodation.
What should happen before the council decides to apply for a care order?
Unless the council thinks your child is in immediate danger, it should normally take other steps before it decides to apply for a care order. The council should do all it can to support you in caring for your child without the need to go to court. If you can’t cope, the council should try to find out whether anyone in your child’s wider family is willing and suitable to care for them
Can I get help to pay for a solicitor?
If you receive either a letter before proceedings’ or a court notice, it is very important that you see us to get some legal advice immediately. You may be upset or angry or feel that nobody is listening to you, so you will need someone to represent you and explain what is happening. KKLaw has two solicitors who are on the Law Society Children Panel and who are very experienced in the law relating to children.
As a parent you will not have to pay your solicitor. We will act on your behalf in dealing with the council and can represent you in court.