Getting help for your child from your local council

This advice applies to England. See advice for See advice for Northern Ireland, See advice for Scotland, See advice for Wales

If you’re worried about your child’s health or development, contact your local council to find out what support you can get.

Your child’s development includes:

  • how they’re growing up physically and mentally

  • their behaviour and how they deal with their feelings

  • how they’re doing at school

You can find your local council on GOV.UK. If you have more than one local council, contact your county council.

Check if your child is a ‘child in need’

Your local council must support ‘children in need’ and their families.

Your child is a ‘child in need’ if they’re under 18 and at least one of the following applies:

  • they’re disabled

  • their health and development will be affected if your local council doesn't give them any help and support

  • their health and development has already been affected by their situation, and could get worse without help and support from your local council

Examples of things that could affect your child’s health and development include if they’re:

  • very unhappy at school or at home

  • being violent towards you or other people

  • self harming

  • abusing alcohol or drugs

  • unable to join in activities because of their disability

  • at risk of getting involved in crime

  • having to provide a lot of care for a relative 

  • seeking asylum

If your child is a ‘child in need’

If you think your child is a child in need, contact your local council’s child services department. You’ll need to explain why your child needs support and ask for a child in need assessment.

You can find your local council on GOV.UK. If you have more than one local council contact your county council.

If your local council agrees that your child is a child in need, they should be able to help with things like:

  • financial support - this could be a loan, a cash payment or vouchers for things like food, clothing or furniture

  • advice and counselling for you and your family

  • daycare facilities for children under 5 who aren’t at school yet

  • after school and holiday care for school-age children

  • family centres - these are places where you can get support and advice, while your children have a safe space to play

  • transport so you can use services provided by your local council

Your local council can also help by providing activities and breaks for you and your child, for example:

  • sport, dance, music or art activities 

  • visits to museums and attractions

  • short breaks at residential centres

  • respite care - this where your child stays with a carer for a short time so you can have a break

If your child is disabled, you can ask your local authority to assess your child’s needs.

Your local authority must offer you respite care if their assessment shows you need it. 

You can find out more about respite care on the SCOPE website.

Check your local council’s website to find out what services are available in your area.

Your child’s ‘child in need’ plan

Your local council will make a ‘child in need plan’ for your child and give you a copy. This plan will include:

  • details of organisations and the services they’ll provide to your child and the rest of your family

  • how the services provided should help your child

  • what you and your child’s other parent need to do

Paying for local council services

Your local council can charge you for some of the services it provides, but it has to be a reasonable amount and you shouldn’t have to pay straight away.

You won’t have to pay anything if you’re getting any of the following benefits:

  • Universal Credit

  • income support

  • income-based jobseeker's allowance (JSA)

  • income-related employment and support allowance (ESA)

  • any element of child tax credit other than the family element

  • working tax credit

Check if your child could live somewhere else

If your child is a child in need, they could be accommodated by your local council. 

Being accommodated means your local council will arrange for your child to live somewhere away from home, for example in a children's home or foster home. A foster home could be the home of relatives or friends of your family.

If your child is accommodated, it’s usually a voluntary arrangement between you and your local council. You’ll be involved in making any decisions about your child and you can ask for them to come home whenever you want.

Being accommodated isn’t the same as being taken into care - that only happens when a court has made a care order. You can find out more about care orders.

Your local council must accommodate your child if you can’t carry on giving them the care they need and a place to live.

If your child is aged 16 or 17

If your child’s welfare could be seriously at risk unless they’re given somewhere safe to live, your local council must accommodate them. 

Your child’s welfare would be seriously at risk if they’re, for example:

  • being abused

  • taking drugs or drinking alcohol

  • behaving violently towards other people

  • thinking about taking their own life 

  • homeless

Your child can ask to be accommodated without your agreement. They can also refuse to be accommodated, even if that’s what you want.

If your local council agrees to accommodate your child 

A social worker will write  a care plan that says what arrangements they’ll make for your child. They’ll give you a copy of the plan.

The plan will include things like:

  • details of where your child will live and who’ll look after them

  • what contact you’ll have with your child

  • how your child's health and education needs will be met

  • how your child's needs in relation to their religion, community and language will be met

The plan should also include you and your child’s wishes and feelings about the arrangements. It should only include things you‘ve agreed to.

Charges for accommodating your child

If your child is under the age of 16, your local council can ask you and their other parent to pay towards the costs of their accommodation. You’ll be sent a ‘contribution notice’ that says how much you should pay and how often. 

You won’t have to pay anything if you get any of the following benefits:

  • Universal Credit

  • Income Support 

  • income-based Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) 

  • income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) 

  • Working Tax Credit

  • any element of Child Tax Credit other than the family element

If you’re going to struggle to afford the payments you can ask your local council to reduce them. You should let them know what you think you can afford and send details of your income and outgoings.

If you can’t come to an agreement about how much you’re going to pay within 1 month, your local council can apply to the court  to make you pay. 

You should get specialist legal advice if the court makes a contribution order.

Find a solicitor who has 'Children Law Accreditation' - this means they're specialists in legal issues to do with children. You can find a solicitor with Children Law Accreditation on the Law Society website.

You can get legal aid to help pay for a solicitor - find out more about legal aid for family matters on the Child Law Advice website.

The DWP or HMRC won’t count your child as a member of your household while they’re being accommodated - this could affect your benefits.

Depending on which benefits you get, you should:

You can also talk to an adviser about your benefits.

If you can’t afford to visit your child

You can probably claim expenses if you visit your child and you’d struggle to cover the costs yourself.

You can make a claim for things like:

  • travel

  • childcare

  • meals out

  • overnight stays

Let your social worker know if you need to claim expenses. If they don’t think you can do this, tell them the law says you can -  it’s under paragraph 16, Schedule 2 of the Children Act 1989.

Checking how your child is getting on

Your local council must hold review meetings to check how your child is doing while they’re being accommodated.

The first review should happen within 4 weeks of the date your child is accommodated. The second review should happen within 3 months of the first review. Further reviews should happen at least every 6 months.

The people at the review meetings will discuss your child’s care plan and check that it’s working for your child. If they decide to make any changes to the plan they should discuss them with you first.

The following people usually go to review meetings:

  • an independent reviewing officer who leads the meeting

  • a social worker and a senior social worker 

  • you and your child’s other parent

  • your child

  • the person who’s currently looking after your child 

  • anyone else who the local council thinks should be there

You can claim expenses if you need to pay for travel and childcare so you can go to the review. Speak to your social worker if you need to claim expenses.

If you’re unhappy with how your local council has acted towards you and your family you can make a formal complaint.

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Page last reviewed on 11 November 2021