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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). 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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‘Lives with’ child arrangements orders

The information on this page is also relevant to kinship carers with residence orders.

What is a ‘lives with’ child arrangements order?

This is an order that says who a child is to live with. Their carer will be able to make day-today decisions.  And they will have parental responsibility for the child for so long as the order is in place. There are some limits on how they may use their parental responsibility. For example, the kinship carer may not change the child’s surname or take the child out of the country for more than one month unless others with parental responsibility consent.

Does someone need to be assessed if they want to care for a child under a child arrangements order?

If a kinship carer asks the court to make a child arrangements order specifying that a child lives with them, the court will ask children’s services (if they are involved) or Cafcass (if children’s services are not involved) to prepare a section 7 report. This will make recommendations to the court as to where it would be best for the child to live.

When making a child arrangements order, the court must presume, unless it is proved otherwise, that the involvement of the child’s parents in their life will further their welfare.

How can a kinship carer apply for a child arrangement order? Will free legal advice be available?

Help and support where a child is cared for under a child arrangements order

Will help be available from a child’s parents if a kinship carer is caring for a child under a child arrangements order?

The child’s parents remain financially responsible for the child throughout the time that they are living with a kinship carer. But:

  • In many cases the parents will not be able provide money or support  because they cannot afford to do this
  • If the parents are working, they can be asked directly for support if it seems they have money to contribute
  • Where parents refuse, a kinship carer can ask the child maintenance service to help get the money. This is not a free service though.  More information about this is available at:

The child maintenance calculator tool may be helpful too. This can help to see what the right level of support may be. It can helpful even if the child maintenance service is not being used.

Is there extra help that can be given to kinship carers raising a child under a child arrangements order? Does this have to come from children’s services?

Below we explain two ways families can get support from local services and agencies. The first is via Early help. The second is via children’s services where the child being raised is a child in need.

Early help

Early help aims for agencies to work together to provide support as soon as problems emerge. This is because tackling a problem early can stop things getting worse. Education (schools, nurseries), housing, and health services are all examples of agencies. Early help can be given to a family with a child up to age 18. So, the child may be a baby, toddler, at primary school or a teenager.

Early help services may be needed for different reasons. It may be that a child needs extra support for their physical development. Or, needs some help for their emotional well-being for example.

Government statutory guidance called Working Together 2018 says practitioners working with families should be alert to families who may need early help services.

What and who is involved?

The early help process starts with an early help assessment.

Social workers are not involved in early help assessments or providing early help services. But sometimes they ask early help services to provide assistance to children and families they are working with.

See our Early help page for more information. This includes FAQs explaining:

  • How to request an early help assessment
  • What an early help assessment involves and how families should be involved in the process
  • Types of early help services.

Child in need

There is a general legal duty on children’s services departments to work to keep children safe, well cared for and, at home unless this would place them at risk. To help achieve this, children’s services must provide a range and level of services in their local area to help children ‘in need’. And to help their families (see section 17(1) of the Children Act 1989).

A child in need is a child who needs extra support or services to help them achieve or maintain ‘a reasonable standard of health or development’ (see section 17(1) of the Children Act 1989). All disabled children are classed as children in need.

Child in need assessment

Where a child or family may need this extra support, children’s services should carry out a child in need assessment. This aims to:

  • Work out if the child is in need or not
  • Decide whether the child is in need enough to get services in that local area
  • Find out what support and services may most help the child and their family.

Local children’s services departments have their own measures for deciding which children are in need enough to get services. These should be set out in a local threshold document. A local threshold document helps social workers decide if a child is likely to get any extra help or services. The threshold document (or the measures in it) may be called ‘eligibly criteria’ in some areas. Slightly different measures or ‘thresholds’ apply in different local areas.

See our Child in need page for important information and advice about:

  • How to request a child in need assessment
  • How the assessment should be carried out
  • How children’s services decide whether help and services should be provided
  • Options were services are not provided.

What if children’s services won’t assess a child’s needs? Or they refuse to provide support?

Sometimes children’s services refuse to assess a child’s needs. Or say services are not needed. They may say the child is not ‘enough in need’ because they are safely living with their kinship carer. In this situation a kinship carer can:

Write a letter or email to the social worker asking:

  • Why they have decided the child is not/may not be a child in need
  • For an explanation to be given in writing and within 10 working days
  • For details of the local threshold document for getting help to be provided. This should set out when the local children’s services give help to children and families
  • Remind the social worker that financial help for children in kinship care should be a priority in their local threshold document (or ‘eligibility criteria’) – see the Family and friends care statutory guidance at paragraph 3.7.

If the explanation given is unclear, unreasonable or if no explanation is given then options include to:

  • Post a question on our Kinship Carers Forum and receive advice from one of Family Rights Group’s expert advisers
  • If needing further or more detailed advice, call Family Rights Group’s 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 bank holidays)
  • Making a complaint to children’s services. See our Complaints page for advice about how to do this.

See our Child in need page for further information and advice

Will children’s services pay an allowance to a kinship carer raising a child under a child arrangements order?

Children’s services can pay an allowance to someone in this situation. The allowance is towards costs of ‘accommodation and maintenance’ of the child. So, this may be day to day costs including housing costs.

But this allowance:

  • Is discretionary. This means children’s services have the power to pay it, but they don’t have to provide it. Their power to do this comes from the Children Act 1989 at schedule 1, paragraph 15)
  • Usually means tested. This means it will depend on the kinship carers income
  • Does not have to be at the same rate as fostering allowance but if it is paid at a much lower rate it may be possible to challenge this
  • Can be applied for by a kinship carer at any time (this was confirmed by the High Court in the case of R (H) v Essex CC(2009) EWHC 353 (Admin)).

How can someone find out more about the local child arrangements order (or residence order) allowance? And is there anything that it is important to asked about these allowances?

To find out more about the local child arrangements order allowance and to apply it is a good idea to:

  • Ask children’s services for information about how to apply
  • Ask children’s services for information about the criteria (rules) they use to decide who they pay and how much they pay. Ask whether this allowance is paid at the same rate as fostering allowance
  • Ask whether it is paid at the same rate as special guardianship allowance.

Things to note if already receiving this type of allowance:

  • Is the allowance being paid at a rate that is a lot less than the national minimum foster care allowance? If it is, you may be able to challenge this. This would involve arguing that what is said by the High Court in paragraph 57 of the case of B v. LB Lewisham (2008) EWHC 738 (Admin). This case said local council’s should not have in place financial schemes for kinship care which mean that:

‘..some types of placement for a child carry a significant financial disadvantage in comparison with others or, worse, would impose such a financial strain on a carer that they would be forced to choose another type of placement’.

    • You do not have to pay income tax on any CAO/RO allowance that you receive from children’s services
    • The allowance will not be taken into account when assessing your entitlement to means tested benefits and tax credits
    • Children’s services may take into account benefit and tax credit entitlement when assessing level of allowance they will provide.

Does having a child arrangements order (or residence order) allowance affect benefit entitlement?

Child arrangements order allowance (and residence order allowance) is disregarded when assessing the amount of Universal Credit a kinship carer receives. This means it is not taken into account; it will not affect the amount they get.

The allowance is also ignored when ignored when income support, jobseekers’ allowance or employment support allowance is worked out.

For more information about benefits and kinship carer see advice sheet 2h) Welfare benefits and kinship care on our Advice sheets page.

What type of help for kinship carers will be available in a local area?

In England, all children’s services department should have a family and friends care policy.

The policy should:

Children’s services should publish information in leaflets and on their websites about the services on offer. This should include information about how to access the services. Kinship carers can ask children’s services for a copy of the policy and for any leaflets.

How to find a local policy

A copy of this policy can be requested from the local council. Or it may be on their website. Or, follow this link on our website to see policies that have been shared with us.

The type of support that children’s services should have available in the local area should include:

  • Help to obtain suitable accommodation. Housing and social care departments should work together to make sure kinship care housing needs are prioritised
  • Help with contact, including signposting to suitable contact centres and mediation services
  • Support groups for family and friends’ carers
  • Financial help. This includes one off help and ongoing support. Local children’s services departments should have their own measures for deciding which children in their areas are in need enough to get help and services. This should be set out in a local threshold document. See further information about threshold documents below
  • Information about the law and the powers and duties children’s services departments have.

This is set out in Chapter 5 of the Family and Friends Care: Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities. This is guidance that should be followed unless there is good reason not to.

For advice about what do to if services are not available in your local area see our Common questions section back on the main Kinship carer page.

For further information and advice options include

  • See our advice sheets for kinship carers on our Advice sheets page – this includes advice sheet 2f) DIY Child arrangements orders: information for kinship carers.  There are also advice sheets on welfare benefits for kinship carers and about the education system
  • See our Why? pages. These aim to provide information about some of the most common reasons children and families become involved with children’s services and the Family Court. Topics include domestic abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, adult mental ill-health. There is information and advice about children with disabilities, children with special educational needs. And information about child mental ill-health
  • Post a question on our Kinship Carers Forum and receive advice from one of Family Rights Group’s expert advisers
  • If needing further or more detailed advice, call Family Rights Group’s 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 bank holidays)
  • Find a solicitor who is a specialist in children law. Or who has Children Law Accreditation. To find a solicitor, search using the ‘how to find a solicitor’ function on the Law Society website. See our Working with a solicitor guide on our Top tips and templates page for more information about finding and working with a solicitor.
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