This advice applies to Northern Ireland. Change country
Young people and family
In this information, child means someone aged under 14 and young person means someone aged 14 or over but under 18. Parent means someone with parental responsibility.
If you are under the age of 18, you can be adopted if you are not married or in a registered civil partnership. As a child, you will have little say over who adopts you, but you should be consulted by the adoption agency or social services department involved in the adoption.
If you are under 18, you have no legal right to know the identity of your birth parents. Once you reach 18, you have a right to apply to see your birth record and to use the Adoption Contact Register. The Register helps adopted people get contact details of birth relatives who have also registered.
To apply to the Adoption Contact Register, write to:-
In England and Wales
The General Register Office
Tel: 0151 471 4830 (9am to 5pm Monday to Friday)
Fax: 0151 471 4755
In Northern Ireland
The General Register Office
49/55 Chichester Street
Tel: 028 9025 2000
Changing your name
You cannot change your name until you are 16 years old. Between 16 and 18 you can complete a change of name deed with parental consent.
For more information about changing your name,see Change of Name.
Local authority care
You can only be taken into care if you are under 18 and the local authority has obtained a court order. You have a right to know why you are in care, under what law, and how long you are likely to remain there.
You can be accommodated by a local authority without a court order if a parent requests it or gives permission. However, the local authority must take your wishes into account. Further information may be available from the Who Cares Trust (see under heading Further help).
For more information about care and what to do if things go wrong whilst you’re in care, see Children and local authority care.
If you are under 16 and marry, it will not be legal unless your marriage took place in a country with a lower marriage age limit than 16.
If you are 16 or 17 you cannot marry without parental consent. Both parents with parental responsibility must give parental consent. In some circumstances, other people may give parental consent. In Northern Ireland a young person under 18 cannot marry without the consent of certain people.
If they refuse permission, in England and Wales you can apply to the Family Court for permission to marry. In Northern Ireland you apply to the County Court.
Anyone aged 18 or over can be married without parental permission.
In England and Wales, both opposite sex and same sex couples can get married. For more information on marriage, see Getting married.
In Northern Ireland, although two people of the same sex cannot get married, they can register a civil partnership – see under heading Civil partnerships.
A civil partnership is a legal relationship which can be registered by two people of the same sex. If you are in a gay or lesbian relationship, registering a civil partnership will give your relationship legal recognition. This will give you added legal rights, as well as responsibilities.
You are not allowed to register a civil partnership if one of you is under 16. If you are a young person of 16 or 17 who wants to register a civil partnership, you may only do this with the consent of your parents.
Anyone aged 18 or over can register a civil partnership without parental permission.
For more information about registering a civil partnership, in England and Wales see Registering a civil partnership.
Parents aged under 16
Mothers aged under 16
If you are under 16 and have a baby, you have the same legal rights and responsibilities towards the child as any mother.
Benefits and Tax Credits
If you live with your parents and they are claiming Child Tax Credit, both you and your child can be included in the claim. Your parents may also be able to claim a Social Fund Maternity Grant for you and your child. If they are claiming Housing Benefit, they can include you and your child in their claim.
For information on Housing Benefit, see Help with your rent – Housing Benefit.
As a young mother, you can claim Child Benefit once the baby is born.
Benefit claims in these circumstances can be complicated and you or a parent should seek advice from an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.
Vouchers for free milk, fruit and vegetables
If you are at least ten weeks pregnant, your parents can get vouchers for free milk, fruit and vegetables for you. It doesn't matter what their income is.
Once you've had the baby, your parents can continue to get vouchers for you only if they get:
- Income Support
- income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance
- income-related Employment and Support Allowance
- Child Tax Credit and have an annual income below a certain amount.
For more information on benefits for maternity and children, see Benefits for families and children.
Local education authorities have a duty to ensure that all children under 16 receive an education. They still have this duty to you, even if you become a mother.
For more information, see Problems at school.
As a young mother you will not normally be able to obtain privately rented or council accommodation because you are too young to be granted a tenancy. However, you can contact the local authority social services department and ask it to find you accommodation, as long as your parents agree.
For more information, see Local authority services for children in need.
If you have housing problems you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.
The Child Maintenance Service could arrange for the father of your child to pay maintenance. This applies if you aren’t living with him.
Fathers aged under 16
As a father aged under 16, you may want to have a formal relationship with your child by applying for a parental responsibility agreement, residence order or contact order.
If as a young father you need to seek advice about applying for a parental responsibility agreement, you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email, click on nearest CAB.
If you are aged under 16 and father a child, the Child Maintenance Service can expect you to pay maintenance for the child. Once the Agency is satisfied that you are the father, you will be expected to make maintenance payments when you begin earning or receiving a benefit.
If you are under 18, you cannot make a valid will unless you are in the armed forces or a seafarer. No one under the age of 18 can act as a trustee, executor or administrator of a will.
The Office of the Children's Commissioner for England
33 Greycoat Street
The Office of the Children's Commissioner for England looks after the interests and acts as the independent voice of children and young people.
Children's Commissioner for Wales
Tel: 0800 801 1000 (Mon-Fri 9.00am -5.00pm)
Textphone: 80800 and start the message with COM
South Wales Office
North Wales Office
Tel: 01492 523333
Fax: 01492 523336
The Children's Commissioner for Wales can give children and young people living in Wales advice about their rights and welfare. The Commissioner can also help you make a complaint about your treatment if you are using the usual complaints procedure of an institution such as a school, care home or social services department. If your complaint is unsuccessful, the Commissioner may be able to carry out a separate investigation.
The Children's Commissioner also has powers to take action over 'whistleblowing'. 'Whistleblowing', in this case, is where an employee of an organisation for children and young people raises concerns that the organisation is acting against the interests of children in its care.
Children can use the special freephone and freetext numbers to contact the Commissioner, which won't show up on any phone bill. There's also a special email address for children to use. The service is bilingual and if you want to talk to someone in a language other than English or Welsh, they will try to make this possible.
Coram Children's Legal Centre (CCLC) (England only)
The CCLC offers free legal information and advice on child, family and education law in England to children, young people, their families, carers and professionals. You can download free fact sheets from its website at www.childrenslegalcentre.com or telephone its legal advice lines:
- child and family law: 0300 330 5480
- education law: 0300 330 5485
Lesbian and Gay Switchboards
There are a number of regional switchboards nationwide which supply information for gay men and lesbians and which can put you in touch with organisations providing counselling and support. To find details of your local switchboard, visit www.queery.org.uk, or phone the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard 24-hour helpline (see below).
London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard
London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard
PO Box 7324
Tel: 020 7837 7324 (24-hour helpline)
The London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard provides an information, support and referral service for lesbians, gay men and bisexual people from all backgrounds throughout the UK.
Who Cares Trust
The Trust provides information and advice for young people in care or those who have recently left care.
Meic - in Wales
Meic is an information, advice and support helpline for young people in Wales. A trained adviser will give you information, or signpost you to someone who can help you more. They're open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.