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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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What happens to a parent or carer’s parental responsibility when a child is looked after under a voluntary arrangement?

There are five steps that can help to understand what happens to parental responsibility when a child is looked after under a voluntary arrangement.

The starting point is to be clear about what parental responsibility is and who has it.

1.What is parental responsibility?

  • The law says parental responsibility is: ‘all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority, which by law a parent has in relation to the child…’. This is explained in section 1(3) of the Children Act 1989.

2. What does it allow someone to do?

  • A person who has parental responsibility can make important decisions about their child’s life. This includes:
    • Providing a home for their child
    • Protecting and caring for their child
    • Agreeing to their child having medical or dental treatment.

3. Who has parental responsibility?

  • Mothers have parental responsibility from the time their child is born. Some fathers may have, or may get, parental responsibility for their child depending on the situation. And kinship carers with a residence, child arrangements or special guardianship orders will have parental responsibility. Others may have parental responsibility for a child too
  • It is a good idea to open or download our Parental responsibility – quick facts table. This can help parents and carers be clear about who has parental responsibility for their child. It includes advice about five important topics: who has parental responsibility, parental responsibility and decision-making, travel abroad, limiting parental responsibility and ending parental responsibility.

4. When a child is looked after under a voluntary arrangement children’s services do not have parental responsibility for them.

Children’s services only have parental responsibility for children who are in the care system under court orders.

5. What is a parent or carer actually doing with their parental responsibility when they agree to a voluntary arrangement?

  • The Supreme Court has explained that a parent (or carer) is ‘simply delegating’ their parental responsibility ‘for the time being’ to children’s services
  • This just means that the parent or carer does not use (‘exercise’) their parental responsibility to provide or arrange somewhere for their child to live
  • Instead, they are passing (delegating) that parental duty to children’s services
  • That does not mean children’s services have parental responsibility for the child
  • The parent’s (or carer’s) delegation must be ‘real and voluntary’. If it is not, then the arrangement may not be lawful (see paragraph 39 of the the Supreme Court case of Williams & Anor v London Borough of Hackney [2018] UKSC 37).

Important note:

But there are situations in which someone else with parental responsibility is able to object to a voluntary arrangement happening. It is very important to know what these are. It is a good idea to read Who can object to a voluntary arrangement?  What happens if family members disagree with each other about a voluntary arrangement? for more information.

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