Young people and family
You can be adopted if you’re under 19 years old, as long as the application is made before you’re 18. You can’t be adopted if you’re married or in a registered civil partnership.
As a child, you’ll 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're 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.
You can find out how to see your birth record or use the Adoption Contact Register on GOV.UK.
Changing your name
You cannot change your name until you are 16 years old. Between 16 and 18, you might need parental consent to change your name.
If you're under 16 years old, an adult might be able to change your name for you.
You can find out how to change your name by deed poll on GOV.UK.
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 which 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 Become (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.
Civil partnerships are available to both same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples.
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're 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're claiming Child Tax Credit, both you and your child can be included in the claim. Your parents might also be able to claim a Social Fund Maternity Grant for you and your child. If they're claiming Housing Benefit, they can include you and your child in their claim.
As a young mother, you can claim Child Benefit once the baby is born - check if you're eligible for Child Benefit.
Benefit claims in these circumstances can be complicated. You or your parent should get advice from an experienced adviser – contact your nearest Citizens Advice.
Vouchers for free milk, fruit and vegetables
If you're at least 10 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
Local education authorities have a duty to make sure that all children under 16 get an education. They still have this duty to you, even if you become a mother.
As a young mother you won't normally be able to get privately rented or council housing because you're too young to have a tenancy. You can still contact social services at your local council and ask them to find you housing if your parents agree.
Read more about local council services for children in need.
If you have housing problems you should speak to an experienced adviser – contact your nearest Citizens Advice.
If you aren’t living with the child’s other parent, the Child Maintenance Service can arrange for them to pay maintenance.
Fathers aged under 16
If you're a father aged under 16 and you’re having problems staying in contact, you can apply for parental responsibility and a child arrangements order.
If you're aged under 16 and father a child, you have to make maintenance payments when you start earning money or get benefits.
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).
PO Box 7324
Tel: 0300 330 0630 (24-hour helpline)
Switchboard (previously 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.
15-18 White Lion Street
Become 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.