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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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Fathers and care proceedings

If children’s services have good reason (‘reasonable grounds’) to believe a child has suffered, or is likely to suffer significant harm, they may start care proceedings. This is the process of applying to the Family Court for a care order or supervision order.

Our Care (and related) proceedings page information about what happens during care proceedings. But the six FAQs below provide fathers with some useful introductory information.

When children’s services begin care proceedings what are they asking the Family Court to do?

They are asking the court to:

  • Consider a plan to keep a child safe and well cared for immediately
  • Make any court orders needed to help put that initial plan in place
  • Decide who the child should spend time with or be in touch with during the proceedings. This includes who the child should see, how often and other such arrangements. This is often referred to as contact arrangements
  • Decide what further information is needed to help the court make final decisions about the child’s future care
  • Make final decisions, at the end of the proceedings, about who the child should live with and stay in touch with.

When may care proceedings begin?

The law sets out when children’s services may make an application to the Family Court to start care proceedings. This is in section 38 of the Children Act 1989. It says that children’s services may only start care proceedings if they have good reason (‘reasonable grounds’) to believe a child is:

  1. Suffering significant harm, or is likely to suffer significant harm, and
  2. That is because either:
    • The care a parent is giving to the child is not what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to provide (see section 32(1)(b)(i))
    • Or the child is beyond their parents’ control (see section 32(1)(b)(ii)).

But children’s services should not issue care proceedings without trying to first work with a family to keep their child safe. And if children’s services do decide to apply to start care proceedings, they will have to show the Family Court what has already been done to support the parents to resolve their concerns.

In an emergency, children’s services can go straight to the Family Court to seek urgent orders to protect the child. But this should not be the norm. It should only happen where it is necessary. See the Urgent protection of children section on our Care (and related) proceedings page for more information.

Will a father with parental responsibility be involved in care proceedings and get free legal advice?

If a father has parental responsibility, he will automatically:

  • Be a party to the proceedings. This means he will receive a full copy of all the court documents, and details of court dates and times.
  • Be entitled to non means and non-merits tested legal aid. This means legal advice and representation in the care proceedings is provided without the father needing to pay.

Will a father without parental responsibility be involved in care proceedings and get free legal advice?

A father in this situation will:

  • Not automatically be a party to proceedings
  • Receive notice that care proceedings have been issued (started) and the first court hearing date
  • Usually be made a party to the proceedings by the court at the first hearing. This is known as being ‘joined’ to the proceedings. A solicitor can help with this.

A father who becomes a party to care proceedings will then be able to see take part fully. This includes seeing all the court papers. He will be entitled to legal aid to get free legal advice.

What should a father do if he thinks care proceedings have, or are about to begin?

How can a father’s relatives be considered as long-term carers for the child within care proceedings?

A good way to do this is with a family group conference. This is a family-led decision-making meeting. It brings together the whole family, and others who are important to the child. Together, at the family group conference, they make a plan for the child. A father doesn’t have to wait for children’s services to suggest this.  They can ask for a family group conference to take place. See our Family group conference: advice for families page for more information.

If care proceedings have started, or about to start, fathers should discuss with their solicitor and child’s social worker who in the family might be able to support them as soon as possible. They should say who in the family might be able to offer care for the child if this help is needed. This could be short term care. Or it could be longer term if their child cannot return home.

Relatives who may be able to offer care for the child should share this information as soon as possible. How this can best and most quickly be done will depend on precise situation. Options include:

  • Contacting the child’s social worker directly if their name is known. The child’s parent may be able to provide this information and contact information for the social worker
  • Asking the parent(s) to let their solicitor or the child’s social worker know
  • Contacting children’s services via phone, email, or letter. The contact information should be available on the local council website or from directory enquiries
  • Contacting the children’s guardian or the child’s solicitor if their details are known
  • Writing to the court dealing with the case – if the family members is aware of the details. Or if the situation is urgent and there is a court hearing about to take place, the family member can attend court themselves.

See our Kinship carers page for Information and advice about the different ways wider family and friends may raise children unable to live with their parents.

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