A C D F G I J L M P Q S T V W Z


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ACCOMMODATION

See VOLUNTARY ACCOMMODATION

ADOPTION

Adoption is when a child stops being a member of their family of origin and legally becomes a member of the adopter’s family by order of the court. Once an adoption order is made it cannot be reversed.

ADOPTION AGENCY

An adoption agency is either a local authority children’s services department or a voluntary adoption agency that is authorised to do adoption work.

ADVOCACY

An advocate is someone who can attend meetings with you or write letters on your behalf. They can help you to put your point of view across and also help you to understand what is going on. You can find more information about advocacy and advocates on the Working with an advocate page.

CARE LEAVER

Care leavers are young people who have been ‘looked after’ in the care system for 13 weeks or more since they were 14 years old and have reached the age of at least 16. They are entitled to some ongoing help and support from children’s services after they have left care (the leaving care age in England and Wales is 18 years but some young people leave care at 16 or 17).

There are different categories of care leaver and the support that each gets varies but ends either by the time the care leaver reaches the age of 21 or by the age of 25 (depending on the circumstances):

  • Eligible child: a young person still in care who is aged 16 or 17 and has been in care for a total of at least 13 weeks since the age of 14. They should be supported to get ready to leave care and children’s services have duties towards them including making sure they have a pathway plan in place by the time they turn 16 and providing a personal adviser
  • Relevant child: a young person aged 16 or 17 who has already left care, was looked after in the care system for at least 13 weeks from the age of 14 and was also looked after (in care) at some point in time whilst they were aged 16 or 17. Children’s services have duty to make sure that a relevant child has a pathway plan in place by the time they turn 16 and to provide a personal adviser
  • Former relevant child: a young person aged 18-21 years old who was once an eligible child and/or a relevant child. Children’s services duties include maintaining contact and providing support through a personal adviser.

If you are not sure whether or not you are a care leaver entitled to have a pathway plan and/or a personal adviser, you can seek specialist advice via ‘Become’ an organisation running a free Care advice line and email advice service. Full details of how to make contact with the service is available on the Further information page.

You can find more information about the things that young parents who are care leavers may want to think about and support they may want to ask for on the Care leavers page.

CARE ORDER

A care order places you child in the care of children’s services. Your child will become a ‘looked after child’ and be in the care system if a care order is made.

Your child must be under 17 years old when the order is made (or 16 if they are married).

A care order lasts until your child is 18 years old, unless a court decides before that time that the care order should be ‘discharged’ (no longer be in place).

The children’s services department that will become responsible for looking after your child is usually the children’s services in the local area where your child lives.

The court can make a care order for a temporary period until a final decision is made about the best care arrangement for your child. This is called an ‘interim care order’.

CARE PLAN

This is a written plan setting out the arrangements for a looked after child (a child who is in the care system). Before a care plan is drawn up, children’s services must:

  • Take account of the wishes and feelings of the child, their parents and other significant people in their life
  • Carry out an assessment of your child’s needs (including their health, education, emotional & behavioural development, identity and need for contact) to make sure that services to meet these needs are met.

The care plan must state:

Care plans are reviewed at regular Looked After Child Review meetings (often called ‘LAC Reviews’).

If care proceedings have started, children’s services will have to share a care plan for your child with you and the court before the court makes a final decision about what is best for your child.

More information about care proceedings and care plans is available:

CARE PROCEEDINGS

Care proceedings is the name for the legal proceedings in the Family Court that start when children’s services make an application for a care or supervision order because they are concerned that a child has suffered, or is at risk of suffering, significant harm.

In care proceedings, children’s services can ask the court to make an order to protect your child for example, an interim or final care order or supervision order.

You can find out more information about these orders and answers to questions that young parents often have about care proceedings on the Care proceedings page.

Further detailed information is also available in Advice Sheet 25: Care proceedings on the main Family Rights Group website.

CHILD ARRANGEMENTS ORDER

There are two types of child arrangements order:

  • One which says where and with whom a child should live (this used to be called a ‘residence order’)
  • One which says who the child can spend time with, when and for how long (this used to be called a section 8 ‘contact order’) and what other types of contact take place (such as phone calls).

A child arrangements order gives parental responsibility to the person(s) the order says the child will live with, whilst the order is in place.

CHILD IN NEED

If your child is assessed as having more significant or complex needs, then your child may be a ‘child in need’. a child in need will receive extra help from children’s services, although what this is may vary.

If your child has a disability, then they will be a child in need.

Other children who may be classed as in need are those who may need services in order to be healthy or to develop properly.  Local children’s services departments will have their own measures for deciding exactly which children in their area are enough ‘in need’ to get extra help. 

Children’s services must provide information about the help they can give. A plan to help a child in need (a child in need plan) can also include help that is provided by people working in health and education, such as a health visitor or a class teacher.

You can find more detailed information about help that may be provided to children in need on the Children's services page.

CHILD IN NEED PLAN

If your child is assessed as having more significant or complex needs, then your child will be a ‘child in need’ and a child in need plan should be developed with other agencies involved with your child and you. The plan should set out:

  • What is working well within the family
  • Any concerns
  • Which agencies will provide services to your child and you
  • What is expected of you as the parent

The plan should be agreed with you at a child in need planning meeting. If you are unable to agree to the child in need plan, your child’s social worker should be clear about what action, if any, children’s services may wish to take.

CHILD PROTECTION PLAN

A child protection plan has to be drawn up if the child protection conference decides your child is at risk of significant harm (or is likely to be in the future). The aim of the plan is to keep your child safe and well cared for.

The child protection plan should be drawn up:

  • Based on the recommendations made by the people at the child protection conference
  • After the child protection conference Chair has asked you what you think will help you and your child.
  • The plan may say your child must not come into contact with someone who is thought to have harmed them. It may also say what extra help you will get to care for your child or recommend that you attend a parenting course. The outline of the child protection plan will be drawn up at the conference but it will be turned into a fuller plan by a social worker after the conference.

The plan will be reviewed after three months and again after six months, to see if things are improving for your child.

For more information and the answers to questions about child protection conferences and child protection plans that young parents often have, go to the Child protection page.

CHILDREN ACT 1989

The Children Act 1989 is the leading source of child welfare law in England & Wales. It is where most of children’s services’ powers and duties towards children and their families are set out.

The Act sets out:

  • The court orders that children’s services and families can ask for
  • Children’s services’ responsibilities when children are looked after
  • The requirement for children’s services to have a complaints procedure.

The Children Act 1989 has been amended many times since it first came into force. For the latest version of the Act see: www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1989/41/contents

CHILDREN ACT 2004

This Act places a duty on children’s services and other agencies to work together to improve the well-being of children and young people and keep them safe.

CHILDREN'S CENTRES

Children’s Centres (sometimes called Sure Start Children’s Centres) offer a range of services to help meet local needs and improve support and services for children, young people and families. They provide a one-stop shop for services or referrals to support services for children and families.

Recently, some Children’s Centres have closed or reduced the services they offer because the grants from central government to local authorities have been cut. Each local authority has to decide how it allocates a limited pool of money between Children’s Centres and other early intervention services.

CHILDREN'S GUARDIAN

If your child is involved in care or emergency protection order proceedings, the court will appoint a Children’s Guardian. Together with the solicitor that they have chosen, the Children’s Guardian will represent your child during the care proceedings.

The Children’s Guardian:

  • Is an independent social worker who does not work for children’s services
  • Can see any papers which children’s services have about your child
  • Will give the court information, check the plan(s) that children’s services have made for your child
  • Give the court an opinion about what is best for your child
  • Should be the independent voice of your child in court.

CHILDREN PROTECTION CONFERENCE

If social workers are worried your child may not be safe or well cared for, they will arrange a child protection conference.

The child protection conference is a meeting to discuss your child’s situation. It brings together you (and perhaps your child, if they’re old enough) and all the professionals already involved with your child – for example, your child’s social worker, GP, health visitor and teacher. Sometimes other professionals are also invited, such as the police or other doctors.

The aim is to look at all the relevant information and decide whether your child needs a child protection plan and what should happen next.

For more information and for answers to questions about child protection conferences and child protection plans that young parents often have, go to the Child protection page.

CHILDREN PROTECTION CONFERENCE CHAIR

See CONFERENCE CHAIR

CHILDREN PROTECTION ENQUIRIES

Children’s services have a legal obligation to look into your child’s situation if they receive information that makes them suspect your child is at risk of significant harm. This will normally involve them seeing your child unless they can find out enough information by another means – for example, by asking their teacher.

For more information and for the answers to questions about child protection enquiries that young parents often have, go to the Child protection page.

COMPLAINTS

If children’s services does not give you the help that you think you need, you can make a complaint.

Each children’s services department should be able to provide you with written information about their complaints procedure. So you can ask your social worker or the complaints officer in children’s services for a copy of this.

You can find more information about making a complaint about a child protection conference in the FAQ (frequently asked questions) section on the Child protection page. You will also find further information about making complains on the main Family Rights Group website in Advice Sheet 25: ‘Challenging decisions and making complaints’.

CONTACT

Contact is the word used to describe the arrangements made for your child to keep in touch with important people in their life. Contact can mean face to face visits, overnight stays, telephone calls, text messages, sending letters and photos or internet-based contact by email or Skype.

The arrangements that are put in place will depend upon:

  • The views of professionals involved with you and your child
  • Your views
  • The views of your child (if they are able to express these)
  • The decision a court makes about contact (where agreement has not been reached or approved by the court).

If your child is living away from home under a care order or interim care order, then children’s services should ‘promote reasonable contact’ between your child and you. Children’s services also need to have the court’s permission if they want to you’re your child having contact with you for longer than 7 days.

CONFERENCE CHAIR

A child protection conference should be led and managed by a conference Chair. The Chair should:

  • Be independent from the social worker and managers who have day to day responsibility for your child’s case
  • Meet you and your child before the conference to make sure you understand why the conference is taking place and what it will involve
  • Wherever possible, chair future child protection conference reviews that take place about your child.

With the help of others who attend the child protection conference, the Chair should decide if your child should have a child protection plan, and if so, what should be on it.

The Chair should set the date for a review child protection conference.

CORE GROUP

After a child protection conference, smaller meetings called ‘core groups’ should take place. The first core group should happen within 10 working days after the child protection conference and the aim of the meeting is to add more detail to the child protection plan and best to make sure the child protection plan is carried out.

The meeting will be organised and probably chaired by your child's social worker.

The professionals most involved with you and your child should be at the core group. If your child is old enough they will also be invited to participate in some way and maybe to attend.

You will find more information about child protection conferences and core groups on the Child protection page in the FAQ (frequently asked questions) section.

COURT ORDER

This is a decision made by the court, which will always be written down. Copies should be given to everyone involved in the case either at court or shortly afterwards. The court order should tell you what has happened in the case and how long the order will be in place for.

For information about the different kinds of emergency and final orders that can be made in care proceedings, go to the Care proceedings page.

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DIRECTIONS

Directions are the instructions that the court gives to help make sure that the people who need to be involved in the court case are and to gather information that will help the court make a decision in the case. The directions the court may make can include:

  • Saying who should attend court hearings
  • Deadlines for people involved in the care sharing information about their views
  • Whether any experts (for example doctors or psychologists) should prepare reports and when these need to be ready.

For more information about the different times when the court will make directions in care proceedings go to the Care proceedings page.

EDUCATION, HEALTH AND CARE PLANS (EHC PLANS)

Since September 2014, EHC plans have been replacing statements of special educational needs for children and young people aged 0 to 25 who have Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND). All children who were receiving support before September 2014 will have moved to an EHC plan by spring 2018.

EHC plans are prepared by the local authority and should ensure that the different agencies that provide education, health and social care support to children and young people with SEND work closely together. (Children, young people and their parents should be able to get help from an Independent Supporter during the EHC assessment or when moving from a statement to an EHC plan; the local authority should tell them who to contact.)

EMERGENCY PROTECTION ORDER

If social workers believe that your child is in urgent need of protection, children’s services can ask the court to make an Emergency Protection Order (EPO). An EPO gives children’s services parental responsibility. This includes giving them the right to:

  • Take your child into care
  • Prevent you taking your child back home. For example, by keeping your child with a foster carer who has been caring for your child with your agreement
  • See your child if you or someone else with parental responsibility has refused to allow this without a good reason.

Here are six important facts about an EPO:

  • An EPO can last for up to 8 days, but can be extended once for another 7 days
  • An EPO can be requested at a court hearing that you don’t know about (a ‘without notice’ hearing). However, the law and government guidance say this should only happen in very exceptional circumstances
  • If you are not told about the hearing, then the hearing must be fully recorded
  • A parent (or anyone else who has parental responsibility or has been caring for your child) who was not present when the EPO was made can apply to the EPO removed (or ‘discharged’)
  • When a court makes an EPO, the court can say what kind of contact should take place between the child and a parent
  • With your agreement, the court can also make an ‘exclusion requirement’. This allows the court to order a person that children’s services believes is a danger to your child to leave your home. This can be done instead of your child having to leave.

EXCLUSION REQUIREMENT

When a court makes an Emergency Protection Order or an Interim Care Order, it can also add an exclusion requirement. This gives the court the power to order the person who the social worker believes is a danger to the child to leave the child’s home. This will only be ordered if the person caring for the child also agrees to them leaving and making sure that they stay away.

EARLY HELP/EARLY HELP ASSESSMENT

Early help means providing support as soon as a problem emerges. It is help that can be provided at any time in your child’s life. The first step is for an ‘early help assessment’ to be carried out to identify what support your child needs.

An early help assessment may start because:

  • Someone who is already working closely with your child (for example a teacher or health visitor) suggests it should be carried out
  • You ask someone who is working with your child for an early help assessment to be carried out.

After the assessment, someone called a lead professional should be appointed to coordinate any support offered to your child by different professionals and agencies. Examples, include help provided by speech therapy, counselling services, young carers’ groups, family support workers, health visitors.

You don’t have to agree to an early help assessment or to the help offered. Agreeing to an assessment and accepting support may be a good idea to make sure you/your child get the help you need as soon as possible.

If you decide not to take up the offer of help but the lead professional is worried your child is still having problems and your child/family need greater support, they may decide to make a referral to children’s services so this can be looked after further.

FAMILY COURT

The Family Court is the court that children’s services, family members and children themselves can ask to make decisions and court orders about where children live, who they should see and what support they should get.

Cases in the Family Court can heard and decided by either:

  • A Judge
  • Or by magistrates who are not Judges but have been trained to make decisions and are supported by a trained legal adviser.

FAMILY GROUP CONFERENCE (FGC)

An FGC is a decision-making meeting in which your whole family, including wider family members, to make plans to provide your child with the support and protection they need.

For more information about FGCs, go to the Family group conference page.

FOSTER CARE

If your child is looked after by children’s services, they may be placed with foster carers. Foster carers do not have parental responsibility for your child[SF1] . However, they look after your child in their home and have responsibility for the daily care of your child.

Foster carers may be unrelated to your child. However, other members of your family (or a family friend) can ask to be assessed and approved as foster carers for your child. This would allow your child to stay within your network of family and friends while they are in care, rather than having to live with someone they don’t know.

If any of your relatives (or friends) are interested in fostering your child, they should talk to the social worker about it. See also Family Rights Group’s Advice Sheet 22: Family and friends care: becoming a foster carer [SF1]I took out the bit about foster carers being employed by the local authority (this won’t always be the case, will it?)

FOSTER FOR ADOPTION

This is when a social worker places a child (usually a baby or young child) with a foster carer who is also approved to adopt children generally. The foster carer could then later go on to adopt the child if the court agrees: (1) that your child should be adopted, and (2) that the foster carer is suitable to adopt them.

If foster for adoption has been mentioned in your case, it is essential you see a solicitor straight away. Go to the Working with a solicitor page for information about how to find a solicitor. Or contact Family Rights Group’s free advice line on 0808 801 0366 which is open Monday to Friday 9.30am-3.00pm (excluding bank holidays).


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HARM

Government guidance describes four possible types of harm:

  • Physical abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Neglect.

Harm can be caused by a parent’s/carer’s actions or by their failure to stop a child being harmed. Harm can also include witnessing violence or conflict at home.

See also significant harm.

INDEPENDENT REVIEWING OFFICER (IRO)

Every child who is looked after by children’s services must have an Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO). Their main job is to:

INTERIM CARE ORDER

See CARE ORDER


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LEAD PROFESSIONAL

The lead professional is the person who coordinates all the different types of help your child needs that were identified in an early help assessment. A lead professional is normally a family worker, youth worker, health visitor, educational welfare officer or personal adviser. Who your child’s lead professional will be depends on your child’s circumstances. If you have any problems getting help for your child, the lead professional is the person to talk to.

There is more information about Early Help and the other ways that children’s services can become involved with children and families on the Children’s services page.

LEGAL PLANNING MEETING

When children’s services (or a child protection review conference) decide that a parent’s care of their child is not improving enough to protect the child from significant harm, they will call a legal planning meeting. This meeting is for social workers and their lawyer to decide whether it is in the child’s best interests:

  • For the parent(s) to be given a further period of support to improve their parenting
  • To find someone else in the child’s wider family to care for the child, or
  • For the child to be removed from their parent’s care straight away by agreement with the parent(s) or by asking the Family court to make an order giving children’s services permission for this to happen.

Parents, children and other families members are not invited to legal planning meetings but the steps that children’s services have decided to take place in light of the legal planning meeting should be shared with parents and other people who have parental responsibility for the child that children’s services are worried about.

LETTER BEFORE PROCEEDINGS

If children’s services wish to invite you to a pre-proceedings meeting and give you a last chance to make changes that are needed in order for you to keep your child safely with you and avoid court proceedings, they should send you a letter before proceedings. This letter should set out:

  • The concerns that children’s services have about your child
  • What changes or improvement need to be made to your parenting to avoid your child being removed from your care
  • What help they will continue to be given to keep the child safe
  • The date, time and place where the pre-proceedings meeting will take place and invite you to attend
  • Information about how they can get free legal advice and representation.

If you receive a pre-proceedings letter it is very important that you:

  • Contact a solicitor specialising in children’s law
  • Go to the pre-proceedings meeting and ask the solicitor to go with you
  • Talk to your solicitor before the meeting about what you will say to children’s services about changes you’re going to make to help keep your child safe
  • Let the social worker know you will be going to the meeting
  • Talk to your wider family and friends about what help and support they can give to you to make the changes that you need to
  • Speak with your wider family and friends to find out if anyone could care for your child in the short (or long) term if you were unable to. You can also ask your child’s social worker to arrange a family group conference (FGC).

For further information about pre-proceedings meetings, what a pre-proceedings process involves and what can happen after a pre-proceedings meeting go to the What should children’s services do before staring legal proceedings? section on the Care proceedings page.

LETTER OF ISSUE

If children’s services decide your child should be removed from your care straight away, they may apply to court for an order saying that your child should be removed against your wishes.

They should tell you this in a letter of issue. If you receive a letter of issue or if you are told by children’s services that they are planning to ask the court for an order to remove your child, you should immediately contact a solicitor that specialises in children’s law.

You can find information about how to find a solicitor on the Working with a solicitor page.

LOCAL SAFEGUARDING CHILDREN’S BOARD

This is the local body responsible for coordinating the services which protect vulnerable children who are at risk of harm in every area.  The Local Safeguarding Children’s Board:

  • Is made up of people from children’s services, and other agencies such as education, health and the police
  • Sets local rules and policies and makes sure they are put into place and work well. 

LOOKED AFTER CHILD

If your child is described as a ‘looked after child’ it means that they are in the care system, either under a court order (in which case they are ‘in care’), or with your agreement (in which case they are ‘voluntarily accommodated’).

When your child is looked after, children’s services have a list of placement priorities that they must follow to decided where your child will live.

  1. The first choice is for your child to be placed with a parent(s) or anyone else with parental responsibility who is assessed as being suitable to care for the child.
  2. If there are no suitable parents, the next priority is for your child to be placed with relatives or family friends (if they are assessed as being suitable).
  3. If there is no one in the wider network of family and friends who can care for your child, then they will be placed with unrelated foster carers (who are approved to foster them) or in a residential unit.

Regular planning and review meetings (often called Looked After Review or LAC Review meetings) will be held to make sure plans meet the looked after child’s needs. Parents should also be consulted about all decisions when their child is looked after.

For more detailed information about planning and review meeting you see Family Rights Group’s Advice Sheet 11: Duties on Children’s Services when children are in the care system.

LOOKED AFTER CHILD REVIEW (LAC Review)

See PLANNING AND REVIEW MEETINGS


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MULTI-AGENCY SAFEGUARDING HUB (MASH)

Many local authorities have now set up multi-agency safeguarding models around a ‘hub’ of key agencies. The agencies usually include children’s services, police, health, schools, probation and youth offending services. The ‘hub’ means agencies are either located in one place or have agreed common procedures (a protocol) for better sharing of information and working together when there are concerns about children.

The aim is that referrals are responded to quickly and in a coordinated way. This should lead to better decisions for children and help being offered at an early stage, so that risks are reduced and a crisis is less likely later on.

PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITY (PR)

Parental responsibility means all the rights and responsibilities you have as a parent towards your child.

The following people have parental responsibility for a child:

  • All mothers
  • Married fathers (including fathers who marry the child’s mother after the birth)
  • Unmarried fathers whose name is on the child’s birth certificate (if the birth was registered after 1 December 2003)
  • Unmarried fathers with a ‘parental responsibility agreement’ (forms are available from local courts) or a ‘parental responsibility order’ from the court
  • Anyone (for example, a relative or friend) who has a residence order or a child arrangements order saying the child should live with them will share parental responsibility with the others who have it
  • Anyone who has a special guardianship order for the child
  • Children’s services if they have a care order or emergency protection order in relation to the child (in these circumstances, children’s services share parental responsibility with the others who have it)
  • Prospective adopters (when the child is placed with them with a view to adoption in the future) and adoptive parents who have already adopted the child
  • A second female parent (in certain circumstances).

If you have parental responsibility you cannot ‘give it away’ to someone else. However, you can of course arrange for other people to care for your child (for example, if your child is being cared for by a child minder or relatives during the day).

You will find a diagram explaining how a father can have parental responsibility on the Young fathers page.

Further information about parental responsibility is available in Family Rights Group’s Advice Sheet 2: Parental Responsibility.

PARTY TO PROCEEDINGS

A part to proceedings is someone who is involved in legal cases before the courts.

Every person who has parental responsibility for your child is automatically involved in care proceedings. Each of these people is called a ‘party’ to the proceedings.

The child who the proceedings are about is also a party and will be allocated a Children’s Guardian to be their independent voice in the case.

Other people can apply to join the proceedings and become a party to the proceedings. This includes wider family members such as grandparents or aunts and uncles, for example. They should seek advice from a solicitor or contact the Family Rights Group advice line if they need further information about this.

Parties are allowed in the court room and are allowed copies of all the paperwork, such as reports and care plans. Information will only be kept away from a party if telling them something could put another person at risk and the court gives specific permission.

PLACEMENT ORDER

If a court decides that your child cannot return home and adoption is the best long-term option for them, then court is likely to make a placement order.

A placement order gives children’s services permission to place your child with prospective adopters. (This is not the same as ‘foster for adoption’.)

The court will only make this order if it is convinced that adoption is in the child’s best interests and all other realistic options, including options to care for your child within the wider family network, have been ruled out.

If children’s services have made an application to court for a placement order you should immediately seek legal advice from a solicitor who specializes in children’s law.

If children’s services at any time mention that they think your child should be adopted (including if a social worker mentions your child moving to live with foster carers who could go on to adopt your child (‘foster for adoption’), you should again immediately seek legal advice from a solicitor who specialises in children’s law.

Go to the Working with a solicitor page for information about how to find a solicitor. Or contact Family Rights Group’s free advice line on 0808 801 0366 which is open Monday to Friday 9.30am-3.00pm (excluding bank holidays).

For more information about placement orders and adoption you can:

  • Go to the Care proceedings page where our FAQs (Frequently asked questions) include key information about the types of final order that can be made at the end of care proceedings, including placement orders.
  • And see Family Rights Group’s Advice Sheet 23: Adoption: What does it mean for birth parents? (in particular ‘Part 3: Placement for adoption’).

PLACEMENT PLAN

This is a plan prepared by Children’s Services for a child who is looked after. It sets out:

  • Where and with whom the child will live
  • Financial arrangements for the placement
  • Any specific arrangements about the placement including the arrangements for the child to keep in touch with their parents, brother, sisters and other members of the family;
  • What a foster carer can decide about how the child is cared for including, for example, school trips, overnight stays, medical and dental treatment, education, leisure and home life, faith and religious observance and use of social media.

PLANNING AND REVIEW MEETINGS

If your child is looked after in the care system, regular meetings will be held to plan and monitor their care. These are planning and review meetings.

You should usually be invited to these meetings. You should be asked about the plans in advance and given a record of decisions made at the meetings.

Planning meetings will be held when your child first becomes looked after by children’s services and they are making decisions about where your child should live, what contact you should have and how your child’s health, education and other needs will be met.

Review meetings are then held one month after your child becomes looked after, then after three months and then every six months after that. The original care plan, agreed when your child first became looked after, is discussed and changes made if necessary. The Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) chairs this meeting. If you have any concerns about your child when they are in the care system, talk to their IRO.

POLICE PROTECTION

This is not a court order. It is a power the police have to protect your child in an emergency where there is no time for children’s services to go to court. The police must believe your child will suffer serious harm if they don’t use the power.

When the police use this power it means that for up to 72 hours (3 days) they:

  • Can remove your child from your care to somewhere else with the help of children’s services – for example to foster carers or to the home of a family member
  • Stop a child being taken away from the place where they already are – for example, a hospital
  • Must tell children’s services as soon as possible what has happened, where your child normally lives and where your child now is
  • Tell you what actions they have taken and why
  • Tell you what they plan to do next and allow your child to have contact with you as a parent if they think this is your child’s best interests.

There is further information on the Care proceedings page about police protection and what may happen if after the expiry of the 72 hours of police protection, children’s services are worried that it is not safe for your child to return home.

PRE-PROCEEDINGS MEETING

A pre-proceedings meeting is a last opportunity for you to discuss with children’s services what they want you to do to be able to care safely for your child so your child does not need to be removed from your care.

You should be invited to this meeting in a letter before proceedings that tell you what children’s services are worried about and what changes they would like you to make.

It is very important that you:

  • Go to the pre-proceedings meeting
  • Ask a solicitor specialising in children’s law to go with you
  • Talk to your solicitor before the meeting about what you will say to children’s services about changes you’re going to make to help keep your child safe
  • Let the social worker know you will be going to the meeting
  • Talk to your wider family and friends about what help and support they can give to you to make the changes that you need to.
  • Speak with your wider family and friends to find out if anyone could care for your child in the short (or long) term if you were unable to. You can also ask your child’s social worker to arrange a family group conference (FGC).

For further information about pre-proceedings meetings, what a pre-proceedings process involves and what can happen after a pre-proceedings meeting go to the Children’s services page where there is a clear diagram of all of the different ways that children’s services can become involved with children and their families.


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REFERRAL

When children’s services receive information that makes them suspect a child may not be safe and well cared for, this is called a ‘referral’.

A referral may come from a professional who knows your child, such as a teacher or doctor. Or, a referral may come from member of the public or someone in your family.

When children’s services receive a referral they must decide within one working day what action (if any) they plan to take. This includes deciding:

  • Whether an assessment should be started
  • What type of assessment it should be
  • Whether your child needs any immediate support or protection.

In order to make that decision, children’s services will start by gathering some initial information about your child, you and your family.

Children’s services must tell the person who made the referral what action they plan to take. Children’s services must also tell you and your child what action they plan to take.

RESIDENCE ORDER

This is a court order that says who a child should live with and gives that person (shared) parental responsibility. A residence order does not take away parental responsibility from the child’s parents.

Residence orders have now been replaced by child arrangements orders but there is little practical difference between the two, other than the name. If you already have a residence order for a child, it is still valid and will continue unless the court makes a new order.

SIGNIFICANT HARM

The Children Act 1989 introduced the phrase "significant harm". This describes the amount of harm that a child must be suffering before children’s services becomes involved in family life against the family's wishes.

There is no definition of "significant". The law requires local authorities and the courts to compare your child's health and development with a similar child to work out whether the harm is significant.

Government guidance describes four possible types of harm:

  • Physical abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Neglect.

Harm can be caused by a parent’s/carer’s actions or by their failure to stop a child being harmed. Harm can also include witnessing violence or conflict at home.

SOCIAL WORKER

A social worker is a qualified professional who must be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council. The social worker should work with you and your child to make sure that your child’s needs are met. It is important to remember that although the social worker’s main concern is your child, they should always work in partnership with you and your family whenever possible. They should also try to ensure you receive the support and information you need to help your family.

SPECIAL GUARDIAN

A special guardian is someone who is not the child’s parent but who is appointed in a court order to provide a permanent home for a child. This special guardianship order (SGO) gives the special guardian parental responsibility for the child.

Under a SGO, the parents have only limited parental responsibility. The special guardian has clear responsibility for almost all decisions about how the child will be raised, without needing to consult others with parental responsibility. However, there are some things they cannot decide without the parent’s agreement such as taking the child abroad for more than three months or changing the child’s surname.

Go to the Family group conference page for clear information about how you and your family can be involved in making plans to keep your child safe including seeing if anyone in your family can care for your child if you are unable to.

There is further information about Special Guardianship available in the Family Rights Group’s Advice Sheet 20: Special Guardianship: What does it mean for birth parents? and Advice Sheet 19: DIY Special Guardianship Orders – Information for family and friends carers.

STRATEGY DISCUSSION

This is a meeting that takes place between children’s services, the police and possibly other child care agencies at the beginning of child protection enquiries. Its purpose is to discuss and decide how the child protection enquiries should be carried out. Parents are not normally invited to strategy meetings but you should be informed as soon as possible after the meeting of what is likely to happen.

SUPERVISION ORDER

A supervision order gives children’s services the power to ‘supervise’ or monitor your child and how you are caring for your child. It does not give them parental responsibility for your child. If a supervision order is in place children’s services have a duty to ‘advise, assist and befriend’ your child.


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VOLUNTARY ACCOMMODATION/ARRANGEMENT

If you have parental responsibility for your child, social workers can ask you to agree to your child being provided with accommodation by children’s services. This is known as ‘voluntary accommodation’ or a ‘section 20 agreement/arrangement’. 

This kind of accommodation/arrangement does not need a court order.

When your child is accommodated, children’s services must draw up a care plan for your child before (or immediately after) they are accommodated. You should be asked if you agree to this (or if they’re 16 or 17, your child should be asked if they agree).

The care plan should state that you are able to end the arrangement at any time and set out how this can be done.

You can find further information about voluntary accommodation/arrangements on the Children’s services page.

It is always a good idea to take advice from a solicitor specialising in children’s law or from Family Rights Group before agreeing to your child being accommodated. Go to the Working with a solicitor page for information about how to find a solicitor. Family Rights Group’s free advice line on 0808 801 0366 which is open Monday to Friday 9.30am-3.00pm (excluding bank holidays).

Important: If a placement with foster carers who can go on to adopt your child (‘foster for adoption’) is being suggested, you should immediately contact a solicitor specialising in children’s law for legal advice – see the Working with a solicitor page.


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WORKING TOGETHER 2015

This is government guidance which aims to help professionals understand what they need to do, and what they can expect of one another, to safeguard children. It focuses on core legal requirements, making it clear what individuals and organisations should do to keep children safe.

 

For a more extended and detailed list see Family Rights Group A-Z of Terms