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March 26, 2013 by Susan Moore, Adviser

We are in a time of huge change for families with welfare reform and major spending cuts affecting children and families.

One of the most significant changes that will impact on the families who use our services is the Children and Families Bill 2013.

The Bill includes major reform to the systems for adoption, looked after children, family justice and special educational needs. In short, all of the issues that families contact us to discuss are about to get a serious overhaul and the implications are huge.

The Government is promoting the Bill as improving services to vulnerable children and supporting strong families but, from the point of view of many of our service users, there are some very serious concerns.

In particular, I feel increasingly worried about the effect that the Bill will have on the ability of family and friends carers to care for children being removed from their parents.

If a child is removed from a parent’s care, either by consent of the parent or by order of a court, the Children Act 1989 currently gives priority to placing the child with a suitable family member before someone not connected to the child. Under a clause in the new Bill, however, if adoption is being considered as a possible outcome for a child, the local authority must consider placing the child with a potential adopter who is temporarily assessed as a foster carer (a “foster to adopt placement”). The local authority is exempt from prioritising family members as carers in these circumstances.

As an organisation, we believe strongly that it is best for children to be raised within their birth family wherever this is safe and suitable to meet their needs. The above development is, therefore, of great concern. Taken with measures such as the speeding up of care proceedings, it is going to be vital for potential carers from within a child’s family to come forward as early as possible, otherwise they are in serious danger of being overlooked and for the child to end up outside the family.

There are many examples from our advice line of situations where family members do not put themselves forward at an early stage for various reasons.

Some relatives simply don’t know what is happening early on, like the aunt I recently advised who had a strained relationship with her sister. She had received third hand information through a family friend that her niece and nephew had been removed in to care but had no details of the situation and no idea what to do to have the children placed in her care.

I was able to talk her through approaching the local authority and putting herself forward as a carer for the children. I can’t help wondering, though, if, in a year’s time, some of these calls may come too late to keep children safely within their families, particularly when there are very young children involved.

In other situations, family members may be fully aware of a situation and involved in supporting the child’s parents through care proceedings. In some of these cases, relatives can feel unable to come forward and offer to care for children for a fear of undermining mum and dad’s position.

I can think of a grandmother I have spoken to in the past who found our conversation extremely hard. She wanted to support her daughter, who had mental health problems as much as possible. Coming forward as a potential carer for her grandson felt like a betrayal as well as an assertion that her daughter was not capable of parenting him. Her view was, if she was needed, she would come forward and do whatever was necessary to keep her grandson safe, even if that meant restricting her contact with her daughter. But she didn’t want to do that until she was certain that he was not going home with mum.

In the above case we had a long discussion about parallel planning and the importance of having a back up plan for children even if they may be able to remain with their parents. Putting herself forward as a carer for her grandson was not letting her daughter down but supporting her to ensure that the baby was not going to be permanently placed outside of the family.

In the future, such conversations may well be more frequent and more urgent. Family members will not have the luxury of time if they wish to have children placed in their care. They will need to be clear about their availability from the very beginning of the process.


Telephone Advice Line

If you are a parent, family member or friend of a child, in England or Wales, who has social workers involved in your child’s life, or if you need extra support from Children’s Services, and would like to speak to an adviser, please call our free and confidential helpline.

0808 801 0366 

(Monday to Friday 9.30am to 3pm)


Discussion Boards

For advice from our advisers, or to get online support from other people in a similar position to you, visit the parents or family and friends carers forums.  To explore new research and to discuss ideas with practitioners and families, visit the FGC Network  or the Your Family, Your Voice Alliance Boards. If you are a domestic violence worker or social worker in London, visit our new research and practice  board.




We have answered the most commonly asked questions put to FRG advisers. Please follow the links to see a list of questions and answers, grouped together by subject.

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Advice Sheets

For more detailed information, please see our range of advice sheets on family support, child protection, looked after children, family and friends care, adoption or challenging decisions.

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Family Rights Group has produced films for families to help ‘demystify’ the child welfare system.

Go to the relevant films to view fictionalised cases which show what happens when a child protection conference is held and similarly when a family group conference takes place.

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Advice during the Coronavirus Crisis

Delivering family group conferences during the Coronavirus crisis

This guide is written to help local authorities, during the crisis, to work in partnership with families. It describes how remote technology can be used to continue to enable family group conferences to be offered to families and to support their children during the Coronavirus outbreak.

Top tips guide for kinship carers to help children maintain relationships

This top tips guide is intended to support kinship carers to help children to safely maintain a relationship with those who are important to them, including their parents, brothers, sisters and friends, even if they cannot visit them.

Advice guide for parents and families with a child in the care system

In this guide, we have set out some creative ways in which relationships can be maintained and you can support your child during the Coronavirus crisis, even if you cannot visit them.

Join the Virtual Lobby of Parliament during Kinship Care Week 5-11 October

We are asking kinship carers and people with insight into kinship care to meet their local MPs online. Sign up to take part and make the case for a better deal for kinship carers.

Delivering good practice initial assessments of family and friends carers in the context of Covid-19

A new appendix to the existing good practice guide for practitioners assessing whether a family member or friend might be a potentially realistic option to be a carer for a child who cannot live safely with their parents.

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