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Our advice service

We provide advice to parents, grandparents, relatives, friends and kinship carers who are involved with children’s services in England or need their help. We can help you understand processes and options when social workers or courts are making decisions about your child’s welfare.

Our advice service is free, independent and confidential.

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By phone or email

To speak to an adviser, please call our free and confidential advice line 0808 801 0366 (Monday to Friday 9.30am to 3pm, excluding Bank Holidays). For Textphone dial 18001 followed by the advice line number. Or you can ask us a question via email using our advice enquiry form.

Discuss on our forums

Our online advice forums are an anonymous space where parents and kinship carers (also known as family and friends carers) can get legal and practical advice, build a support network and learn from other people’s experiences.

Advice on our website

Our get help and advice section describes the processes that you and your family are likely to go through, so that you know what to expect. Our webchat service can help you find the information and advice on our website which will help you understand the law and your rights.

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How are contact arrangements reviewed for a child who is looked after under a voluntary arrangement?

Once a child is looked after in the care system, children’s services must prepare a care plan for them and keep that plan under regular review.  Reviewing a care plan includes reviewing the arrangements for contact set out in the care plan.  This will happen at a looked after child review. Sometimes parents and carers may hear this being shortened to just LAC review. This process will happen whether the child is looked after under a voluntary arrangement or under a court order.

Reviews must take place regularly in this way:

The child’s social worker must talk to the independent reviewing officer (IRO) about contact arrangements. The independent reviewing officer is a social worker whose role is to make sure that children’s services are meeting the child’s needs.

The social worker must tell the independent reviewing officer about:

  • Any major change in contact arrangements
  • Any complaint by the child or parent.

Can parents get help with expenses when having contact when their child is looked after in a voluntary arrangement?

Children’s services may help parents (and others with parental responsibility) with the costs of contact. They can also help wider family and friends with this.

This may be paying for travel. It may be helping with other expenses, such as meals out and activities. But this will only happen where children’s services believe:

This simply means children’s services can help with these expenses, but they do not have to.

Parents can talk to the child’s social worker about what help they need with contact costs. And find out what costs children’s services can cover.

If contact can’t happen without a parent being given some financial help and there are no other sensible options, then the parent may want to consider making a complaint. The following guidance may assist with this:

  • Parents and carers have a right to complain where they are concerned children’s services, or a social worker have not done the right thing for their child or family. It can be harder to work with social workers after you a complaint has been made however. This may especially be the case if the child still has the same social worker. So, it may be worth discussing things with one of our specialist advisers before making a complaint by:
    • Posting a question on our Advice Forums to receive advice from one of our expert advisers
    • Calling our specialist legal and practice advice line on 0808 801 0366 (the advice line is open Monday to Friday, from 9.30 am to 3 pm excluding).

See our Complaints page for information and advice about the children’s services complaints process.

Should children’s services make arrangements for a child in a voluntary arrangement to stay in touch with their wider family and friends’ network?

Yes. Children’s services have a legal duty to promote contact between the child and their parents, wider family and other people connected to them (see paragraph 15 of schedule 2 of the Children Act 1989). This means they should make arrangements for a chid in care to keep in touch with wider family members. And they should keep to this duty unless the court says they don’t have to. The duty says children’s services should

Government statutory guidance describes how important wider family relationships are.  The guidance is called ‘The children Act 1989 guidance and regulations: Volume 2: care planning, placement and case review’ and says:

‘Grandparents and other relatives can provide a sense of family history and continuity where the child cannot live with his/her birth parents yet contact may easily be lost if the child becomes looked after’ (see paragraph 2.84).

The guidance also reminds children’s services that they should work in partnership with children and families to agree the best contact arrangements. It says where a child is in a voluntary arrangement, contact is:

“a matter for negotiation and agreement between the responsible authority, the child, parents and others seeking contact” (see paragraph 2.99).

A major review of research about children having contact with families has found that children benefit from contact with grandparents, siblings and wider family members. This type of family contact has a positive impact on relationships and the role that family members can play in providing support after the child leaves care. There is more information about this in the Messages from research and tips for discussing contact with social workers section.

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