5 things young fathers should know
This page covers five key things that young fathers may need to understand and think about when children’s services become involved with their child:
- Parental responsibility
- Your rights as a father
- Keeping in touch with social workers
- Involving your family
- Risks versus resource.
You can find out more about each of these issues by clicking on the boxes below.
Parental responsibility (PR)The law says that parental responsibility (PR) means ‘all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority, which by law a parent has in relation to the child…’
This means that a person with parental responsibility is responsible for the care and well-being of their child. Unless a court order says something different, they can make important decisions about a child’s life. For example:
- Providing a home for the child
- Protecting and caring for the child
- Agreeing to the child having medical or dental treatment.
Mothers have parental responsibility from the moment their child is born. However, it is not automatic for all fathers. A court can make an order that a father has parental responsibility (PR) for example, a Child Arrangements Order (stating who the child should live with) or a Parental Responsibility Order. There are also four other ways in which a father can have parental responsibility (PR), which are shown in the diagram below.
More detailed information can be found in Advice Sheet 2: Parental Responsibility on Family Rights Group's website.
Your rights as a fatherThe law and guidance on what children’s services must do to support children and keep them safe, says they should work ‘in partnership’ with parents. This includes all birth fathers, whether or not they have parental responsibility.
So children’s services should invite you to meetings about your child, including child protection conferences, even if you don’t have parental responsibility.
If there are concerns that your being at a meeting could place someone at risk or intimidate them or make someone feel unable to take part, then arrangements should be made for separate meetings to take place or for you to give your views in some other way.
Keeping in touch with social workersIt is very important that your child’s social worker always knows how to contact you.
Sometimes, young fathers’ details are not recorded or kept up to date on social work files. This means fathers can be overlooked or not contacted when important decisions and plans are being made about their children.
Here are some things you can do to make sure you keep in touch with your child’s social worker:
- Read the tips on the Working with a social worker page
- Remember always to let your child’s social worker know about how best to contact you. This means telling them about any change of address, phone number or email
- Ask the social worker if they can arrange appointments or meetings around times that suit you (that fit in with your work or college, for example). If this isn’t possible, ask them to tell you about meetings as far in advance as they can, so you can try and make arrangements to be there
- Let the social worker know about your family and friends. You could give the social worker the number of someone you trust who you see regularly. So even if the social worker can’t easily reach you, they can leave a message or letter with this other person.
Involving your familyChildren’s services should be looking at what help you and your family need to keep your child safe and supported within the family. They should do this whether or not you have parental responsibility (see the information about parental responsibility (PR) above).
However, young fathers sometimes feel members of their own family are overlooked when children’s services are supporting or making plans for their child.
Here are some simple steps you can take to try and make sure children’s services fully include your family:
- Let the social worker know as soon as you can if you have family or friends who may be able to support you and your partner (or ex-partner) in caring safely for your child. For example, helping with household chores or baby-sitting, and supporting you at meetings.
- Let the social worker know if anyone in your family may be able to care for your child if you or the mother cannot. It’s very important family members come forward as soon as possible if they want to be involved. Ask them to contact the social worker directly or ask them to agree to you passing on their details to the social worker.
- Ask the social worker to make a referral for a family group conference (FGC) so that everyone who can help and support can come together to make a family plan. Read more about how they can help on the Family group conferences page.
- Even if you feel there are some tensions between you and your family (or between your family and your partner, or ex-partner), you should still think carefully about what help members of your family might be able to offer. If you need advice about this, then talk to your child’s social worker or call Family Rights Group’s free advice line on 0808 801 0366 (Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 3pm, excluding bank holidays).
Risk versus resourceSome professionals can sometimes see young fathers as a ‘risk’ to their child rather than as a ‘resource’ to support and help their child.
If your child’s social worker has said that there are concerns about your current or past behaviour or your lifestyle, then it’s very important that you:
- Work with the social worker to understand what their concerns are
- Are given the chance to get help to understand and address the worries that the social worker has
- Have the opportunity to challenge any concerns that you think are not based upon clear or reliable information
- Are given the chance to show any changes you have made, and your strengths as a father, and how you could develop these to help keep your child safe within the family
- Think about whether if you are being asked to agree to something for a short and clear period of time whilst some initial enquiries are being made, whether this is a good idea. You should still seek advice and should also ask the social worker involved for a date and time when they will discuss future arrangements with you fully.
If you feel you are being seen only as a risk rather than someone who has something to contribute to your child’s life, here are some simple steps you can take that might help:
- Listen carefully to what the social worker has said
Have you understood what they are worried about? If not, draw up a list of questions that you have and ask to meet the social worker to go through them. You could ask a family member or trusted friend to help you to do this or you can make a voicenote to remind you
- Think carefully about whether you feel the social worker is missing some information about your situation
Does the social worker have all the information they need to understand your situation and circumstances fully? If not, make a list of the things you would like the social worker to know and understand about you.
Are there any other professionals you have been working with (for example, a mentor, a tutor, a probation worker, your child's nusery worker, a young fathers’ support worker) who might be able to provide up-to-date information about you or your situation? If there is, ask this person if they would be happy to speak with the social worker. You can also ask if they could write a letter about you for the social worker
- Think about what help you need
If you feel you need help with a particular problem or challenge that you face, it’s also a good idea to make a note of the kind of help you think would be useful. Talk to the social worker about how you can find this help and what they can do to support you in getting it. Have a look at our Further information page. for ideas about services you might find helpful.
If you’d like information about parenting classes or fathers’ groups ask the social worker for a list of what there is locally in your area.
If there are concerns about whether there has been domestic violence between you and a partner (or ex-partner), it’s very important that you take steps to fully understand what the concerns are and what is meant by domestic violence. You can talk to the social worker, ring a specialist advice line or ask to be referred to a course about domestic violence. You can find more information on our Domestic violence page.
Young fathers - Frequently asked questions
Children’s services are refusing to include me in their assessment and planning work with my child. What should I do?If you feel that children’s services are refusing or failing to include you in their assessment or planning about your child, then it’s a good idea to write to (or email) your child’s social worker. You should explain:
- Your relationship and involvement with your child
- That you wish to be involved in the work that children’s services are doing
- What you can offer in terms of care and support to meet your child’s needs.
If children’s services still refuse to involve you then ask them for a written explanation for their reasons.
If you’re a young father (up to age 30) and you’d like some help preparing a letter to children’s services, you can contact Family Rights Group's free advice line and ask for help with writing it as part of the Young Parents Project. You can also make this request via the online referral form. You can reach Family Rights Group's free advice line on 0808 801 0366, Monday to Friday 9.30am-3.00pm (excluding bank holidays).
I think a child protection conference about my child is going to take place but I haven’t been invited. What can I do?If you think that there is a child protection conference and you haven’t been invited, then you should write to the social worker (see the previous question) explaining why you think you should be involved.
Ask for your letter to be shared with everyone at the conference and to be read out. Keep a copy of the letter (or email) for your records.
I’ve been asked to leave the family home or to not have contact with my child. Should I agree?If children’s services are asking you to leave the family home or to agree to have no contact with your child (because of concerns that social workers have), you should:
- Ask children’s services for the reasons and to put those reasons in writing
- Ask children’s services how long they want these arrangements to last and to explain exactly what they will be doing in relation to your child’s case during that time
- Ask whether it will be possible for you to have contact that is monitored or supervised by someone else rather than all contact coming to an end. This could be a professional contact supervisor or someone within your family and friends network (they would need to agree and to be assessed by children’s services as a suitable person to supervise)
- Get advice about what you are being asked to do by contacting Family Rights Group's free advice line on 0808 801 0366, Monday to Friday 9.30am-3.00pm (excluding bank holidays) or asking a solicitor who specialises in children’s law
- If you’re being asked to agree to something for a short or specific period while initial enquiries are being made, think about whether this is a good idea. You should still seek advice, however. And you should ask the social worker involved for a date and time to discuss future arrangements with you fully.
Further information for young fathers
For further advice about making sure you are involved when social workers are making plans for your child you can call Family Rights Group's free advice line on 0808 801 0366, Monday to Friday 9.30am-3.00pm (excluding bank holidays).
You can also seek independent legal advice. If you wish to do this or to find out more about working with a legal representative, take a look at our Working with a solictor page.
You will find a range of helpful information services listed on our Further information page.