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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 children’s services should make decisions, and work with families

The building blocks of the child welfare system

A range of laws and guidance come together to explain this. There are however five important principles which guide the ways children’s services should make decisions and work.

Click on the drop downs below to read more about the ways children’s services should make decisions and work

1. Welfare of the child

The Children Act 1989 is the leading piece of child welfare law in England. It includes many duties on children’s services relating to the welfare of children including:

  • A general legal duty on children’s services to ‘safeguard and promote the welfare’ of children in need in their area. And to promote their upbringing within their families. Children’s services must do this by providing a range and level of services to help meet the needs of these children (see section 17(1) of the Children Act 1989)
  • A similar duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children looked after in the care system (see section 22(3) Children Act 1989)
  • A duty to take reasonable steps to prevent children in their local area suffering ill-treatment or neglect (see Schedule 2, Children Act 1989, para 4(1)).

If the Family Court needs to make decisions about the care and upbringing of a child then the welfare of the child has to be the ‘paramount consideration’ (section 1 Children Act 1989).

This means the child’s welfare is always the court’s main concern. The key question for the court is: “what is in the child’s best interests?”

See our Care proceedings page for more information about how the court make decisions and children’s welfare.

2. Children raised within their family

Government guidance confirms that ‘children are best looked after within their families, with their parents playing a full part in their lives, unless compulsory intervention in family life is necessary’ (see Working Together 2018 at paragraph 11 on page 8).

The general legal duties on children’s services mean that they should aim to keep children safe, well cared for and, at home unless this would place them at risk (see section 17 of the Children Act 1989).

If a child cannot be raised by their parents, children’s services should first look at whether there is anyone in the child’s family and friends’ network that can care for them.

See our Children living with relatives and friends page for further information.

3. Parental responsibility

A person with parental responsibility is responsible for the care and wellbeing of their child. Section 3 of the Children Act 1989 explains parental responsibility as “All the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority, which by law a parent has in relation to the child…”

Unless a court order says something different, a person with parental responsibility can make important decisions about a child’s life. For example:

  • Providing a home for the child
  • Protecting and caring for the child
  • Consenting to the child’s medical or dental treatment.

Only through a court order can children’s services share parental responsibility for a child.

See our A-Z entry for Parental responsibility for more information.

4. Partnership working

Children’s services should work in partnership with children and families. This is clear in government guidance (see Working Together 2018 at paragraph 11 on page 8).

Day to day, partnership working includes:

  • Listening to what families think may help them
  • Involving children and families in assessments
  • Listening to the views of the child before making decisions and plans
  • Making decisions with children and families wherever possible.

5. Fair process and respect for human rights

The Human Rights Act 1998 applies to all public bodies. This includes children’s services and the family court. This means they must take account of a person’s rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.

This includes:

  • Working with children and families in ways which are consistent with the right to respect for their family life. This right can only be interfered with if it is necessary AND ‘proportionate’. This means:
    • They should only make decisions about how a child should be cared for where that is necessary to achieve the aim of keeping the child safe and well
    • Any actions they take should be no more than what is needed to achieve that aim.
  • Making sure their decision-making processes are fair and involve children and parents. There should be ways to challenge decisions. And for families to raise complaints.

Actions and decisions taken by children’s services or the family courts must also take account of the human rights of children which are also protected under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

More information about human rights can be found is on the website of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

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