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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 can parents to be get extra help and support?

Parents to be do not have to wait until their baby is born to receive help.

It is important they understand the different ways help and support can be provided to them. And the different agencies that might be able to provide this.  This includes understanding when children’s services may become involved and how they should work with children and families.

Universal services

There are a range of services that all children have access to. These are called ‘universal’ services. The range of universal services available depend on a child’s:

  • Age
  • Stage of development
  • Individual needs.

Universal services are provided by different agencies. Examples of universal services that families access during pregnancy and soon after the birth of a child include GP and midwife services, health visitors and children’s centres.

Children’s services do not need to be involved for children and families to access universal services.

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.

This support could be put in place during pregnancy, or after the baby is born. It could include a local parent preparation class, or a support group for new fathers. It could include a plan to access extra advice from a health visitor via a local children’s centre.

The first step is an early help assessment. This may be suggested by someone already working with a pregnant woman or father to be.  Or, a parent or carer may feel their baby will need extra help when they are born. They can then ask someone at a local service for an assessment.

A lead practitioner will do the assessment to work out what help is needed. They may be a GP or health visitor for example. They should work with the family to identify local services to provide the right help and to:

  • Develop an early help plan
  • Act as an advocate for the family
  • Make sure the family can access support (‘coordinating’ the early help).

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 and advice.

Child in need

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’.

An unborn child is likely to be considered a child in need if it is thought their parents need some extra support during the pregnancy. Or when the baby is born. A social worker from children’s services should do a child in need assessment to decide this. And to find out what extra support and services may be helpful during pregnancy and after the birth.

Children’s services departments will have their own measures for deciding which children in the local area are ‘in need’ enough to get services. If they decide support is needed, then they should prepare a child in need plan.

Child in need assessments are voluntary. This means parents do not have to agree to have an assessment. And if an assessment is carried out, a parent can decide not to accept any services offered.  But it is important to remember that:

  • A child in need assessment aims to find out what extra help and services a child and their family may need
  • Accepting help and services following the assessment may prevent needs and difficulties escalating.

See our Child in need page for important information about how to request a child in need assessment and what is involved.

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