Frequently asked questions on thinking of raising a friend or relative's child who can't live with their parents
Q. My daughter and her boyfriend are drug users. I’m worried that the social workers are going to take her son into care. They don’t want this, but if it happens then I would want him to come to me. How can I arrange this ?
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?
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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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
- 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;
- 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.
The social workers took my granddaughter away from my son, and they placed her with a foster carer who doesn't know her. How can I go about arranging for her to live with me instead?
The law says that when children are looked after in the care system, the social worker must:
- first consider placing the child with their parents, but only if they are assessed as being suitable to look after the child and this would be in the child's best interests. If a placement with parents is not possible or suitable then
- place the child in the most appropriate placement. When deciding this, they must give preference to willing, suitable relatives or friends (or others connected with the child) provided they are approved as foster carers. They should do this in preference to placing the child with foster carers they don't know.
It might be that the social workers did not know about you when your granddaughter first came into care, or did not have time to contact you because it was an emergency. But, whatever has (or hasn't) happened so far, you should contact the social worker straight away, and let them know you would like to care for your granddaughter. They will want to do an assessment before they agree she can live with you.
The social worker can do a quick assessment and give you temporary approval as a foster carer (for up to 16 weeks) to enable your granddaughter to move in with you quickly, if this is in her best interests. The social worker will then do a full fostering assessment of you if the arrangement is to continue in the longer term.
- If they approve you to care for her, you would have to become a foster carer for her to live with you. Social workers would remain involved unless she was no longer in care and you would have a right to receive a fostering allowance.
- If they refuse to assess you or do not approve you as a foster carer for her, you could challenge this by either
- Challenging the reasons you were given for not being approved (you have 28 days to do this). For more information click here and/or
- apply to court for a child arrangements order (saying she should live with you) or a special guardianship order but this takes a minimum of 3 months. For more information on this click here and here.
Maybe. You can apply for legal aid to apply for a child arrangements order (saying the child will live with you) or a special guardianship order if you can show the legal aid agency evidence of relevant child protection concerns in the last two years. This would include things that have occurred in the last two years, like:
- The respondent to your application (usually the person that the child is currently living with) has an unspent criminal conviction or police caution or is involved in criminal proceedings for a child abuse offence that are still going on;
- There is or has been a protective injunction in force which protects the child from the respondent to your application;
- There has been a finding of fact of abuse of a child by someone other than you, made in proceedings in the United Kingdom;There is a letter from a Children's Services department confirming that the child was assessed as being (or at risk of being) a victim of child abuse by someone other than you;
- There is a letter from a Children's Services department confirming that a child protection plan was put in place to protect the child from abuse or a risk of abuse by someone other than you;
- An application for an order for a protective injunction made with an application for a prohibited steps order under section 8 of the Children Act 1989(a) which has not, at the date of the application for legal aid, been decided by the court.
If you have any of the evidence listed above then you can apply for legal aid but whether or not you get it will depend on two further things:
whether you can prove to the Legal Aid Agency that you have a reasonable chance of getting the order you are asking for; and
how much money you have – the legal aid agency will assess your income and capital and you will only get legal aid if you have less than the amount required to be eligible.
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.
The people with parental responsibility are not letting me see my grandchild, is there anything I can do?
If the people with Parental Responsibility won’t allow you to stay in touch with the children, you might think about applying for a Contact Order. A Contact Order is a legal order, made in court, that says whom a child should have contact with. The order might also say when the child would have contact, how often, and other details. You might need to get the court’s permission before you could apply for a Contact Order.
However, before a judge makes a contact order, they might insist that you go to mediation. If this happens, an independent person called a mediator will try to help you and the person with Parental Responsibility to reach agreement about contact.
Can I report a worry about my grandchild to social workers without my daughter finding out it was me ?
You can ask the social workers not to let the parents know it was you who reported them. They should try to respect that, as far as possible. However, they can’t guarantee that your name will never come out. If social workers go to court for a Care Order, the parents might find out then.
I have told social workers about my concerns for my grandchild but nothing has changed, what can I do?
If you are still worried that your grandchild might come to harm, you should let the social workers know why you think this. The social workers should let you know what they have done, once they have looked into the things you are worried about. If you think the social workers are not doing enough, or they are not taking it seriously enough, you can make a complaint. If the child is under a child protection plan, you would complain to the Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB). Otherwise, you would complain to Children’s Services.
My daughter and her boyfriend are drug users. I’m worried that the social workers are going to take her son into care. They don’t want this, but if it happens then I would want him to come to me. How can I arrange this ?
Social workers can only remove your grandson from his parents, against their wishes, if they have a court order, such as an Emergency Protection Order, an Interim Care Order or a Care Order. If they do this, you can ask the court to consider you as the person who could care for him rather than him going live with foster carers he doesn’t know.
The police would also have the power to remove him, in an emergency, in order to protect him.
If your grandson comes into care under one of these orders, the social workers must check whether he could go to live with someone in his family or a friend. If you let them know that he could come to you, then they would have to consider you, although they would also consider any other relatives or friends who might be able to help.
You can let the social workers know that they can contact you if they need to place your grandson. You should probably talk to your daughter and her boyfriend about this too.
I have told social workers about my concerns for my grandchild but nobody has got back to me to tell me what is happening. What can I do ?
If you tell social workers that you are worried about a child, then they ought to tell you the outcome after they have looked into it. They might not be able to go into all the details.
If you haven’t heard from the social workers, you could start by phoning them up and asking what is happening. If they won’t call you back, or won’t tell you anything, you might want to make a complaint.
If the parents won’t allow you to stay in touch with the children, you might think about applying for a Contact Order. A Contact Order is a legal order, made in court, that says who a child should have contact with. The order might also say when the child would have contact, how often, and other details. You might need to get the court’s agreement before you can apply for a Contact Order.
Before a judge makes a contact order, they will normally expect you to have tried to reach agreement about this in mediation. If this happens, an independent person called a mediator will try to help you and the parents to reach agreement about contact.