- If you’re in Wales but you’re away from your home, your rights are there to protect you
- You have the same rights under the UNCRC as every other child in Wales – it doesn’t matter if you lived here all your life or just arrived
- You can find help to get home if that’s what you want, or you may be able to stay in Wales if that’s better for you
If you are a child in Wales, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is there to protect you. It doesn’t matter whether you have always lived in Wales or have only recently arrived in Wales. Your rights are even more important if you are away from home and the people who should normally protect and look after you if you are under 18.
You have a right to stay in contact with people from home even if you aren’t living at home. If you’re away from home, and living somewhere that has been organised by social services, your rights are there to make sure where you live is safe and that you’re living in good conditions. If you’re away from home because someone has taken you away and brought you to Wales and you are being hurt or abused, your rights mean that you should be protected from this treatment.
My home isn’t in Wales
As a child, it is your right to be looked after by your parents. They have parental responsibility for you which means they make most of the big decisions about your life. Your rights are all centred on you being able to live with your parents as far as possible. If they decide to move to Wales from another part of the UK, or from another country, your ‘home’ will be with them, unless there’s some reason why it’s not in your best interests to live with them.
If you parents have split up and they have agreed who you will live with or a court has decided who you will live with, you are expected to live with that parent. If you want to stay, there will need to be a change in the arrangements that have been agreed. If the parent you live with has moved, or wants to move, to Wales which means you will be further away from your other parent and a place you might think of as ‘home’, you will still be expected to live with that parent unless you can work out a change to the arrangements. In some cases, the other parent might be able to apply to the court to stop the move.
You can try and talk to the parent you live with to see if you can change things, or make different arrangements. If a court ends up having to make a decision about this, it should listen to what you want and will make a decision that it considers will be in your best interests about who you should live with - and where you should live.
If you have been brought to Wales and made to work, or you are being abused, you can be helped to go home as long as you can find someone to tell about what is happening to you. If you have a chance to go out on your own, you could try and tell the police about what is happening to you. You could get in touch with an organisation like Childline or the Runaway Helpline.
Even if you have been brought to Wales by someone who has treated you badly, or has given you to other people who have treated you badly, you may not want to go ‘home’ because of what might happen to you once you get there.
As a child, you have all the rights of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, so any decision that is made about whether you should go home or not must always be in your best interests. If your home is somewhere else in the UK, but you are being treated badly there and don’t want to go home, social services may get involved to work out what should happen next. They should always talk to you about what you want, and make decisions that are in your best interests.
My home is in Wales
You may end up living away from home for a time for lots of different reasons. It could be because your parents can’t look after you properly, or because someone hurt you at home. It might be because your parents and the people at home need extra support to look after you, and some of that includes you living away from home. You might also have to live away from home for a time if you have been in trouble with the police and end up in Youth Detention Accommodation.
Again, different rules apply depending on the type of Youth Detention Accommodation you are in, but you will be able to stay in contact with your family through letters and phone calls.
If you aren’t living with your parents, or with your brothers and sisters, or other family members, you may still want to keep in touch with them.
If you are adopted, you become part of your adoptive family. Legally, you no longer belong to your birth family, but you should still know about your background, and have contact with your birth family if it’s right and safe for you.
‘Life journey’ work with social workers and carers is one way you can know about your background. Alongside your life journey work, there will be a plan in place for contact with your birth family. This will usually be ‘indirect contact’ – often called letterbox contact –based around exchanging letters.
Indirect contact is designed to help you to settle with your adoptive family and protect you from risks that might come from direct contact with your birth family, but allow you to keep in touch with them. Through indirect contact, you can find out how members of your birth family are getting on and they can find out the same about you. To begin with, this arrangement will be between your adopters and your birth parents and/or brothers or sisters. Your adopters will be able to tell you how often contact happens; you may have already been involved in letters or drawing pictures to send to your birth family.
If you have brothers or sisters who were also adopted, but by a different family, or are still in long-term foster care, or other types of placement, the plan might encourage direct contact – meetings and visits – with them.
No one can be forced to continue contact arrangements. Sometimes, birth families don’t keep up contact. Equally, although adoptive parents are encouraged to continue contact, there are times when this doesn’t happen. You may be able to talk to your adoptive parents about why contact isn’t happening or how you’d like it to change but, if you’d feel uncomfortable about this, your adoption agency or Regional Adoption Service can offer you help and support.
When the Local Authority has taken some legal responsibility for your welfare, it is called being ‘looked after’.
If you are looked after, the Local Authority should promote contact with your birth parents, and with other brothers and sisters who aren’t living with you. Your care plan should explain the contact arrangements.
If you have questions about contact, or your wishes about contact change, you can talk to your Social Worker or Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) who is there to make sure that your care plan is working.
Your Social Worker can help you get advocacy support to help you make the points you want to make about contact with your brothers or sisters or birth parents.
Family & Friends Care/Special Guardianship
Sometimes, you might be living with a parent or relative but still be ‘looked after’ because your family is being supported by the Local Authority.
Otherwise, arrangements might be made for you to live with one or other of your parents, another relative, or with friends either through a Child Arrangements Order or Special Guardianship. Once the arrangement is in place, you won’t have an ongoing relationship with a Social Worker or IRO.
If you want to talk about contact with brothers or sisters, or other members of your family, the first place to start is with the people caring for you who may be able to explain more about what has happened, and help establish contact.
Your rights as a child are focussed on you being looked after by your family. If your family don’t look after you properly or treat you badly, public bodies like the local authority are there to make sure you are protected.
Until you are 16, the arrangements that will be made for you to protect you will involve finding somewhere else for you to live where you will be safe. This could be with another family member or a friend, with a foster family or in a children’s home.
If you’re 16 or 17 and you’re at risk of being homeless because of something that’s happening to you at home, social services and the housing department in your local authority should work together to find somewhere suitable for you to live. Because you’re older, this might mean you get a flat or somewhere else that’s more independent.
If you’re not being protected and you have run away from home, or you have run away from home because you don’t like what’s been organised to keep you safe, you may be putting yourself at risk. The local authority may consider that it’s in your best interests for you to stay in a Secure Children’s Home for a time.