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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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What if children’s services think a child is unsafe at home because of the parent or carer’s mental ill-health?

If children’s services are worried a child may not be safe at home because of their parent or carer’s mental ill-health (or another reason), they may decide they need to begin a pre-proceedings process. During this process, children’s services will assess the family and consider whether they need to begin care proceedings to keep the child safe. The parents or carers will have the chance to show whether they are able to care safely for their child. See our Pre-proceedings page for more information.

If children’s services think immediate steps need to be taken to protect a child, they may:

  • Ask for a parent or carer, or another person with parental responsibility to agree to the child being cared for elsewhere under a voluntary arrangement. This could be with a relative or with unrelated foster carers.  See our Children in the care system under voluntary arrangements (section 20) page for further information
  • Ask the police to take steps to protect the child (police protection) if there is not time for children’s services to go to court for an order to protect the child. Or if the police reach the child first (for example, they are called to an emergency) they may simply exercise these powers
  • Ask the Family Court to make an urgent court order to protect the child, by removing them to the care of a relative. Or to unrelated carers. This could be an emergency protection order for example.

Or children’s services may start care proceedings so they can ask the Family Court to:

  • Consider a plan to keep a child safe and well cared for immediately (and, if necessary, any other children in the home). This could include a plan to remove the child
  • 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 they should see, how often and other such arrangements. This is often called contact arrangements
  • Make final decisions, at the end of the proceedings, about who the child should live, see or be in contact with
  • Decide what further information is needed to help the court make final decisions about the child’s future care.

See our Care proceedings page for more information about urgent court orders that children’s services can seek, including emergency protection orders and interim care orders. Our Care proceedings page also provides more information about police protection.

How children’s services respond will depend on the precise situation. But whatever steps are taken, it will be important for any parent or carer to seek urgent legal advice.

Our guide to Working with a solicitor guide explains how to find a solicitor.

It is important to remember that children’s services:

  • Should work in partnership with children and families. See our Children’s services page for information about this
  • Should explore what help and support wider family and friends may be able to provide. A family group conference can be a good way to do this.

A family group conference 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. See our Family group conferences: advice for families page for further advice.

And social workers from children’s services cannot themselves remove a child from their parent or carer unless either:

  • The Family Court has approved a plan for this to happen and made an order so that plan can be put into action or
  • A parent (or someone else) with parental responsibility for the child has given their real and voluntary agreement to this happening and no one else who is able (entitled) to object, is objecting to this. The law says only certain people with parental responsibility can object. See our Quick facts about voluntary arrangements below

Voluntary arrangements: Quick facts for parents and other carers

  1. A child can be looked after in the care system under a voluntary arrangement only if someone with parental responsibility agrees. This must be real and voluntary agreement. It should be based on clear and accurate information
  2. But a child cannot be looked after in the care system under a voluntary arrangement if:
  • Someone with parental responsibility for the child objects and
  • That person can provide the child with a place to live themselves, or
  • They can arrange a place for the child to stay.
  1. The exception to this is if:
  • Someone who has a child arrangements order or special guardianship order for the child thinks the child should be (or continue to be) in a voluntary arrangement, or
  • The child is 16 or 17 and able to agree to remaining in the voluntary arrangement themselves.
  1. Children’s services do not have parental responsibility for any child who is looked after in a voluntary arrangement
  2. A child can be removed from a voluntary arrangement at any time by a parent who has parental responsibility. But the same exception in point 3. applies too
  3. If a parent (or carer) with parental responsibility is in a position to remove their child, no notice is required. No restrictions should put on the parent in relation to their right to remove their child.

For more information about voluntary arrangements, including more about who can agree to them and who can object, see our Children in the care system under voluntary arrangements (section 20) page.

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