Frequently asked questions on raising a relative or friend's child

Q. I have a child arrangement order/residence order to care for my grandchild/sibling , but I am not getting any financial help to do this. I cannot afford to look after the child for much longer. The social worker says no help is available, what should I do?

A. As you are caring for a child who is not your own under a child arrangements order (saying the child should live with you) or a residence order, you can ask the social worker to:

  • assess whether the child is in need (as with a private arrangement);
  • pay you a child arrangements order/residence order allowance. You do not have a right to this, but the social worker does have the power to pay it, although it would be means tested. If the social worker encouraged you to apply for the child arrangements or residence order as an alternative to the child being in care, you could politely point out that your care of the child is saving the local authority a lot of money. If they refuse, you could consider making a complaint;

You can also apply for benefits and tax credits. If the parents are earning, you could also ask them for financial support to help you raise their child.

For further information see FRG advice sheet 21: Support for relatives and friends who are looking after someone else's child here. To talk your situation over with an adviser, ring the FRG advice line.


Q. I am caring for my grandchild/sibling, under a fostering arrangement, but I am not getting any financial help to do this. I cannot afford to look after the child for much longer. The social worker says no help is available, what should I do?

A. As you are fostering a child who is looked after by the local authority and you have been approved as a foster carer for them, you should get a fostering allowance. If you are not getting this money, you should tell the social worker about your financial pressures and politely remind them that they should be paying you an allowance. The allowance should be backdated to the date the child was placed with you. If you still do not receive it, you could consider making a complaint.

For further information see FRG advice sheet 21: Support for relatives and friends who are looking after someone else's child here. To talk your situation over with an adviser, ring the FRG advice line.


Q. I'm raising my grandchild but I don't have a court order saying I can. Do I need one?

A.This entirely depends on the circumstances of your case. There are a range of legal ways in which you can care for someone else's child and there is no right way to do it. The options are:

  1. Private arrangements (where there is no legal order):
    You have a private arrangement if you and the child's parents (or anyone else with parental responsibility for the child) have agreed that you will care for the child, usually without Children's Services being involved. In this situation you do not have parental responsibility for the child. This remains with the parents. This means that you have to ask them for their agreement about any major decisions concerning the child's care, such as medical and dental treatment, overnight stays, school trips, taking them abroad, choice of school. Also, you cannot appoint a guardian to look after the child in the event of you dying, in this arrangement.

    If you are not happy with your situation under a private arrangement, you could consider applying for a child arrangements order (saying the child should live with you) or a special guardianship order.

  2. Child arrangements order saying the child will live with you (previously known as a residence order):
    This is an order which says where the child will live. It gives you parental responsibility for the child. This means you can agree to things like medical and dental treatment, choice of school, overnight stays for the child, school trips and you can take the child abroad for up to one month. But if you want to go abroad for longer than one month or change the child's surname you either need the agreement of everyone else with parental responsibility (normally the parents) or the permission of the court. Also, with this order you cannot appoint a guardian to look after the child in the event of you dying. The parents can apply to court to end the order at any time, although the court would only do this if it was in the child's best interests.

    For more information about how to apply for this order, click here.

  3. Special guardianship order:
    This is a long term order which says where the child will live until they are 18 (unless the order is ended by the court before then). The order gives you parental responsibility for the child which you can exercise to the exclusion of anyone else with parental responsibility. This means you can agree to things like medical and dental treatment, choice of school, overnight stays for the child, school trips and you can take the child abroad for up to three months. If you want to go abroad for longer than three months or you want to change the child's surname, you either need the agreement of everyone else with parental responsibility (normally the parents) or the permission of the court. Unlike child arrangements orders, with this order you can appoint a guardian to look after the child in the event of you dying. The parents cannot apply to end this order without first getting the permission of the court. You have to tell the local authority if you apply for this order, giving them 3 months notice, so that they can tell the court what they think about your application.

    For more information about how to apply for this order, click here.

Q. I have been assessed to be a foster carer for my nephew, but I've now been told that I have not been approved. What can I do?

A. If you are not approved as a foster carer, you should be told why. A senior officer in Children's Services who made that decision must write to you and explain the reasons. This letter should also tell you that you have 28 days to challenge the reasons you were given for not being approved. You can do this by either:

  • making a written representation to Children's Services, or
  • applying for a review by an independent review panel,

but you cannot do both. Also you have no right to challenge the decision if the reason for you not being approved was because you (or someone else in the household) has a criminal conviction for certain specified offences.

  1. If you make a representation to Children's Services, the fostering panel will meet to consider it. If they still decide not to recommend you and the officer in Children's Services who made the decision agrees with this, then you can make a complaint. For further information see FRG advice sheet on Complaints.
  2. To apply for a review by an independent review panel, you should write to the Contract Manager of the Independent Review Mechanism, explaining why you disagree with the decision, the date you received it, and the name of the local authority. You can find out details of where to write to on the IRM website.

Both these processes can take some time so it may also be important for you to look at other ways of being considered as a potential carer for your child. You can do this by:

  1. Discussing your wish to look after the child with the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO). The IRO is responsible for ensuring your nephew is well cared for whilst they are in the care system. If you do not have the name of this person, ask the social worker or the mother or father. For more about the role of the IRO see FRG advice sheet 11: Duties of Children's Services towards children in the care system here; and/or
  2. Applying to the court for a child arrangements order (or special guardianship order) saying that the child should live with you. You can do this either within any current court proceedings about the welfare of the child or by starting the application yourself. For more information click here and here;
  3. If there are current legal proceedings, you could also:
  • ask the child's mother or father to ask their solicitor to tell the court you want to care for the child or
  • explain your position to the guardian who represents the child in court or
  • ask Children's Services to appoint an independent social worker to do another assessment of you as a potential carer.

Q. Can I get parental leave from work as a family and friends carer?

A. Parental leave offers 'parents' who qualify the right to take unpaid time off work to look after their child or make arrangements for their welfare. Whether or not you can get parental leave as a family and friends carer depends on the legal way you are caring for the child:

  • If you have parental responsibility for a child who is under 5 (for example because you have a child arrangements order saying the child should live with you (previously known as a residence order), or a special guardianship order or you were appointed as guardian by their parent who has now died), you can take up to 18 weeks of unpaid time off work to look after the child / make arrangements for them to live with you, provided you have been working for your employer for 12 months or more.
    • But the maximum parental leave you can take in any one year (up to the child being the age of 5) is 4 weeks, unless your employer agrees otherwise. Time off should be taken in blocks of one week, up to 4 weeks per year, unless your employer agrees otherwise. A 'week' is equivalent to the number of days that you would normally work per week.
    • If the child is disabled, you can take up to 18 weeks unpaid parental leave before the child turns 18.
  • If you have been approved as a foster carer and Children's Services have placed the child with you, you do not have a right to parental leave but you may be able to ask for a flexible working pattern. For further information please click here

Q. I'm bringing up my three grandchildren, and I feel very isolated sometimes. I don't get any support from others in the family, and I'm losing touch with my friends. Is there any way I can arrange to meet up with others who're in the same situation as me?

A. Every local authority should help to set up a support group for relatives and friends caring for children who are not their own. These groups enable carers to meet regularly to share experiences and support each other. You can find out if there's a family and friends carers' support group near you by visiting this webpage.

You may also be interested in joining our discussion forum for family and friends carers – you can register here.


Q. I am caring for my grandchild/sibling under a private arrangement, but I am not getting any financial help to do this. I cannot afford to look after the child for much longer. The social worker says no help is available, what should I do?

A. You can ask them for a copy of the council's Family and Friends Care policy or follow the link on our website to check the policy. The policy should set out the support that is available to people in your situation in your local area.

Once you have read this, you could ask the social worker to reconsider your request for support, referring to the policy, and explain what the impact is likely to be on the child if you don't get it.

As you are caring for the child under a private arrangement with the parents and there is no order, Children's Services can provide you with support (often known as Section 17 support) if they assess the child's needs and decide that they are 'in need'. They will decide they are 'in need' if the social worker thinks they need extra help to be healthy and develop normally and/or if they are disabled. Government guidance says that children living in family and friends care should be considered to be children 'in need' who can receive extra help. If the child you are caring for is assessed as being in need, the social worker can give you financial and other support to help you raise them, but they don't have to. This support is not means tested (as you are not the parent).

In some cases the needs of the child are so acute that a very quick assessment is needed, but you can still get support before the assessment is finished – government guidance says that social workers should not wait until they finish their assessment before providing support for a child and their family.

Sometimes, Children's Services decide not to carry out such an assessment, arguing that the child isn't sufficiently 'in need' because they are now safely living with you and are therefore no longer at risk of harm. In these circumstances, you could politely remind the social worker that:

  • support for children in family and friends care should be prioritised; and
  • every assessment of a child and family should be focused on the outcome for the child – so decisions about support need to show how they will improve the situation for the child.

If they still refuse to assess the child's needs, you can make a complaint.

You can also apply for benefits and tax credits. If the parents are earning, you could also ask them for financial support to help you raise their child.

For further information see child is in need. To talk your situation over with an adviser, ring the FRG advice line 0808 801 0366 (Opening hours: Monday - Friday 9.30am-3.00pm) excluding Bank Holidays.


Q. I want to look after my grandchildren but I have not been approved as a foster carer for them. Can I appeal this decision?

A. Yes, you can appeal. If you are turned down after your assessment has been to the fostering panel, then someone from Children’s Services must write to you and give the reasons. You will have 28 days to challenge them. You can do this by either:

  • appealing in writing to Children’s Services, or
  • applying for a review through the independent review mechanism,

but you cannot do both. If the reasons are unclear, contact them as soon as you can to get a clear explanation.

If you appeal to Children’s Services, the fostering panel will meet to look at your appeal. If they still decide not to recommend you, and the Children’s Services decision maker agrees with this, then you can make a complaint.

If you apply to the Independent Review Mechanism (IRM), an panel independent from Children’s Services will look into it. If they think you should have been approved, they can make a fresh recommendation to Children’s Services. Children’s Services will still make the final decision.

You cannot appeal if the reason for not being approved was the criminal record for certain offences of you or someone else in your household.



Q. 
What does the fostering panel do?

A. The panel considers all the information about you, your household and your relationship with the child that the social worker has gathered during their assessment of you. The panel then makes a recommendation to Children’s Services about whether or not you should be approved as a foster carer. It is Children’s Services, not the panel that makes the final decision about this.


Q. I am caring for someone else's child/my grandchild/my younger sibling and not getting paid any fostering allowanceany money to do this, and cannot afford to look after the children for much longer. The social worker says no help is available, what should I do?

A. If you are fostering child a child who is looked after, you should get a fostering allowance. If you are not getting this money, you should tell the social worker about your financial pressures and politely remind them that they should be paying you an allowance. The allowance should be backdated to the date the child was placed with you. If you still do not receive it, you could make an official complaintTo talk your situation over with an adviser, ring our advice line.


Q. My home is too small for me to keep caring for the children, can I get help to get a bigger home?

A. If you live in flat or house provided by the council or a housing association, the social workers should work with housing officials to help you move to a bigger home. Family and friends carers should be given priority. So if you need a bigger home you can ask the social worker to write to the housing department (or housing association) setting out what you need.

If you are in private rented accommodation you could ask the social worker for help with the deposit for a bigger flat and to help you apply for housing benefit (if you are eligible) to meet the increased rental costs.

If you own your own house or flat and it is too small for you and the children together, you can ask the social worker to consider giving you some help with money for alterations. For example you could ask for help with the costs of building an extension or making some other changes to your home, although this is quite rare.



Q. How do if find out about what my local Children's Services provides for family and friends carers – including what help they can give?

A. Each Children’s Services department in England has to have a family and friends care policy. This policy should set out what help they provide family and friends carers. You can ask your link worker or the child’s social worker for a copy of the policy in your area, or you may find it here.



Q. I want my grandchild to go to the school near our house, but her parents wants her to stay where she is can I just move her?

A. You should speak to her parents and the social worker, to try to come to agreement about where your grandchild goes school. You cannot decide this on your own, and her parents and her social worker should have a say in where your grandchild goes to school. If your grandchild is in care under a court order then the social worker can make the final decision even if her parents do not agree. However if she is accommodated (looked after by agreement), then only the parents have Parental Responsibility, and this sort of decision should only be made if they agree. If the parents do not agree, it may be best to ask the social worker to discuss it with them.



Q. My son is coming round to take his son home and he says there is nothing I can do to stop him, is he right?

A. If there is a court order, such as a Care Order, Interim Care Order or Emergency Protection Order, then he should not take his son away without the social worker agreeing and the move being planned. You should tell the social worker what he says he is going to do right away.

If you have a residence order or special guardianship order he cannot take his son home without a court order. For more information see here.



Q. I think that contact with his parents is too upsetting for my grandson. Can I stop taking him to the fortnightly meetings?

A. You will need to talk to the parents and the social worker about this. You should explain why you are concerned and try to come to an agreement about what will be best for your grandson. Could you change the way contact takes place, to make it better for your grandson.

If you can’t reach agreement about this, you could involve others, such as the Children’s Rights Officer or the Independent Reviewing Officer. Remember if your grandson is looked after then you don’t have Parental Responsibility, so you can’t make the decision about the child’s contact with his parents.



Q. It is really expensive for us to travel to contact meetings, can we get help with these costs?

A. If you are fostering the child, then the social worker ought to arrange for you to get help with the travel costs.



Q. The social worker placed our niece with us and said it was a private arrangement. But now, six months later, we realise that really this was not the case. Is there anything we can do?

A. If the social worker said that it was a private arrangement even though when she placed your niece with you, you should have been able to take independent advice before you said yes. This would have helped you to give ‘informed consent’ to the arrangement. If you didn’t give your ‘informed consent’ you could argue that the child ought to be looked after. This would give you a right to get support (including a fostering allowance) but you would also have to be assessed and approved as foster carers. This is a complicated area of law, contact our advice service for specialist help.



Q. I think that contact with his mum is too upsetting for my grandson. Can I stop taking him to the fortnightly meetings?

A. If you want to change the contact arrangement, you will need to talk to the other people who are involved in arranging it. This could include the social worker, a Cafcass officer if there is a court case going on, or your solicitor (if you have one).

You should explain to these people why you are concerned and try to come to an agreement about what will be best for your grandson. Could you change the way contact takes place, to make it better for your grandson?If you want to change the contact arrangement, you will need to talk to the other people who are involved in arranging it. This could include the social worker,  a Cafcass officer if there is a court case going on, or your solicitor (if you have one).

You can decide about changing contact yourself if you have a Residence Order or a Special Guardianship Order, and there is no Contact Order in place. If there is a Contact Order in place, and mum won’t agree to less contact, you might have to ask the court to reduce the level of contact stated in the order.



Q. Can I adopt the child I am caring for?

A. Very few family and friends carers adopt the children they are raising, but it is possible. More often family and friends carers get either a Residence Order or a Special Guardianship Order.



Q. How do I apply for a Special Guardianship Order?

A. We have written a DIY guide to applying for a Special Guardianship Order you can find it here.



Q. Do I need a solicitor to apply for a different kind of legal order?

A. No. It is a complicated process and it is often better to have a solicitor, particularly if anyone is against you getting the order.

But you can apply for a Residence Order or a Special Guardianship Order yourself as a ‘litigant in person’. This means you are representing yourself in court. Family Rights Group has advice sheets that can guide you through the process.



Q. Can I get help with the costs of a solicitor?

A. You can ask a solicitor who specialises in child care law to help apply to court but their fees can be expensive. So you need to know you can pay them or else ask solicitor (who does legal aid family work) at your first meeting if you can get legal aid which would make it free for them to help you. However you can only get legal aid in very limited circumstances, for example when you are taking on the care of the child because they are at risk of harm. Your solicitor can give you more details about this.

Some solicitors also do a free 20 minute first meeting so you can ask about this when you phone up.

You could also ask the Children’s Services to help fund your legal costs – they may well be willing to help you with this if they are encouraging you to take our a legal order because otherwise the child might be in care.



Q. What other benefits can I claim?

A. You should be able to claim the same welfare benefits and tax credits as parents. We have written a guide to financial support find it here.



Q. We need an extension because our house isn’t big enough for our grandchildren and us, can we get help with the costs?

A. If you think you need more space in order for the child to stay with you long-term, you could ask the social worker for money to help you build an extension, as part of the agreement to apply for the order. We know of carers who have got this help. However, the social worker probably wouldn’t arrange for you to get this sort of help if you were privately fostering the child or it was a private arrangement.

If social workers were worried that it wouldn’t be safe for the child to go back to their parents, they might suggest that the child should stay with you long-term under a Residence Order or a Special Guardianship Order.



Q. It is really expensive for us to travel to contact meetings, can we get help with these costs?

A. If social workers are already involved, for example because the child is under a Child Protection Plan or is a child in need, then you could ask the child’s social worker for help with the travel costs. You can also ask if social workers are not involved, by asking them to assess whether the child is a child in need - but be aware that they might not agree to do this.

Advice Sheets

 

 


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