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What exactly is parental responsibility? What do kinship carers (and potential carers) need to know about it?

The law says that 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.

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.

Mothers and parental responsibility

All birth mothers have parental responsibility for their child unless their child has since been adopted.  Stepmothers may gain parental responsibility through a formal parental responsibility agreement or Family Court order. And second female parents may have parental responsibility, depending on the precise situation.

Fathers and parental responsibility

Not all fathers have parental responsibility for their child from birth.  Some fathers will have parental responsibility for their child because of being married to the mother. Or because they are named on their child’s birth certificate. Some birth fathers and step-fathers may gain parental responsibility through a formal parental responsibility agreement or Family Court order.

Kinship carers and parental responsibility

Whether a kinship carer has parental responsibility for a child will depend on the type of kinship care arrangement:

  • Only where a kinship carer has a child arrangements order, residence order or special guardianship order for a child will they have parental responsibility for them
  • Under a special guardianship order, a kinship carer will have ‘enhanced’ parental responsibility. This means they will be able to make significant decisions without the agreement of the parents with parental responsibility
  • Where a child is raised in kinship foster care, children’s services will have parental responsibility for the child (in addition to the parent(s) who have it).

See also our section on the Types of kinship care arrangement.

More information about parental responsibility:

It is also a good idea to Open or download our Parental responsibility – quick facts guide.  It includes a table showing who has parental responsibility. And the ways different people can obtain it.

It also answers questions about:

  • Whether parental responsibility can come to an end
  • Decision making and parental responsibility
  • Limits to parental responsibility, and
  • Taking a child abroad.

For more detailed information about mothers and fathers see:

  • Our Mothers page has information and advice about mothers, stepmothers, second female parents and parental responsibility
  • Our Fatherspage for information and advice about fathers, stepfathers and parental responsibility.

To seek legal advice in relation to parental responsibility:

  • 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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