If your child is taken into care by 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 a court makes a care order for your child, your local council will take on responsibility for deciding things like:

  • where they live 

  • who looks after them

  • how they’re educated

You can find out more about care orders.

You’ll still be involved in making these decisions, but you should work with your local council to agree what’s best for your child.

Deciding where  your child will live

Your local council must try to arrange for your child to live with one of the following:

  • you, their other parent or both of you if you live together

  • someone who’s already been agreed under a child arrangements order - find out more about child arrangements orders

  • someone else who has ‘parental responsibility’

If someone has parental responsibility, it means they’re responsible for making important decisions about a child’s care and how the child is brought up. It also means they have the legal right to make these decisions.

If your local council decides none of these options are possible, they’ll try to arrange for your child to live with a relative, family friend or someone else they know. This type of arrangement is called ‘kinship care’ or ‘family and friends care’. 

The person your child lives with will be registered as a foster carer with their local council. You can find out more about kinship care on the Family Rights Group website.

If your child can’t live with someone they know, they’ll usually either stay with a local authority foster parent or live in a children's home.

Making sure your child’s needs are met

Your local council must try to make sure your child lives near their home and their education or training isn’t disrupted.

If you have more than one child in care, your children should be able to live together.

If your child is disabled, your local council should make sure where they live is suitable for their needs.

When your local council decides where your child is going to live they must:

  • always consider and look after your child's welfare, including their progress in school

  • try to consider the wishes and feelings of people who are important in your child's life, including you, your child’s other parent and anyone else who has parental responsibility

  • try to consider your child's wishes, taking into account their age and how much they understand about their situation

  • consider your child's religion, race, cultural background and first language

Your local council will try to make sure you, your child and your child’s other parent agree with them on where your child should live. If it isn't possible to agree, your local council has the right to decide where your child should live.

Seeing your child and staying in touch while they’re in care

If your child isn’t living with you while they’re in care, you should be allowed to have contact with them.

Your local council should also allow contact between your child and other family members and friends.

Contact with your child can include:

  • visiting your child at their new home

  • your child spending some time at home, including overnight stays

  • meeting up at a friend or relative’s home, including overnight stays

  • having a day out together

  • phone or video calls

  • social media messaging, texts, emails or letters

If you visit your child you should be allowed to get involved in their daily activities, for example taking them out, going shopping, bathing and putting them to bed.

Your contact with your child might be supervised by a social worker or foster parent.

Arrangements for contact will normally be agreed between you, your child and your local council. If you can’t agree, the court can decide what contact your child should have with you and other people.

You won’t be able to have ongoing contact with your child if they’re a baby or very young and they’re going to be adopted.

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 it’s under paragraph 16, Schedule 2 of the Children Act 1989.

If your local council wants to change or stop contact

A social worker must talk to you about any changes in the arrangements for contact between you and your child. 

Your local council can stop contact between you and your child if they:

  • get a court order - if this happens the court can stop your contact for as long as they think is necessary  

  • think the situation is urgent - if this happens they can stop contact for up to 7 days without a court order

If your local council stops you having contact with your child you can apply to the court to have contact again. You should speak to a solicitor if you want to do this.

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.

Appealing a decision about contact with your child

You can appeal against a decision of the court to refuse or grant a contact order. You should speak to a solicitor if you want to do this.

Checking how your child is getting on

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

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.

You, your child and their other parent can usually go to the review meetings.

The following people also go to review meetings:

  • an independent reviewing officer who chairs the meeting

  • a social worker and a senior social worker

  • the person who’s looking after your child

  • anyone else who the local council thinks should be there

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

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.

Complaining about your local council

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 22 November 2021