Frequently asked questions on raising a relative or friend's child
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 complaint. To 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?
Q. How do I apply for a Residence Order?
A. We have written a DIY guide to applying for a Residence Order you can find it here.
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.