My family

  • Your family life and the relationships you have with your family are very important
  • You may not always be able to live with your family, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t important
  • If you’re living with your family and someone is hurting you, you have the right to be protected

Your relationships with your family, especially your parents but also brothers, sisters, grandparents and wider family, are some of the first and most important relationships you have in your life. Your family life is protected, even if you can’t always be with your family. The law is there to protect you if your family relationships don’t work out. The law is also there to protect you if you are being harmed by someone in your family.

For some children’ and young people, this will be a simple question with a simple answer, for others it will be a more difficult answer. Your family isn’t necessarily the people you live with, or the people who are responsible for you. Even if you aren’t living with the people you consider to be your family, you should be able to stay in touch with them if it’s in your best interests.

Sometimes, families don’t work as well as they should do. Sometimes parents can’t look after their children, or don’t look after them properly. If this happens, you may be taken away from your parents so that you can be looked after properly. If you get into serious trouble with the police, you might end up having to spend time in youth detention accommodation – a Young Offender Institution, a Secure Training Centre, or a Secure Children’s Home. If one of your parents or a family member breaks the law, they might end up in prison. You might not be able to live with your family all the time if you have complex needs that need lots of medical care or other support.

Your family are still your family whether you are living with them or not. Depending on what has happened though, someone different may have parental responsibility for you, and will  make the important decisions about you that your parents would have made.

This doesn’t mean the people making decisions are your family, although depending on the circumstances, for example if you are adopted, they may become your family.

Parental Responsibility is the term used to describe all the decisions and duties that a parent has to look after a child. The person (or people) with parental responsibility for a child must give you a home and care for you. They have to make decisions about things like your education, any medical treatment you need (until you are old enough to make the decision yourself). They should tell you off if you need to be told off, and keep you safe as you grow and develop.

Parental responsibility normally lasts until you are 18, but as you get closer to 18 yourself, you will find that you have more and more opportunity to make decisions for yourself, with your parents – or the people with parental responsibility for you – able to offer advice and guidance if you want it.

When you are born, your mum automatically has parental responsibility for you, and your dad does if he is married to your mum when you are born. If your parents are in a same sex relationship – you have 2 mums or 2 dads, then both parents can have parental responsibility if they make an application to court.

There are a few ways that other people or organisations can have parental responsibility for you. If your dad wasn’t married to your mum when you were born, he can get parental responsibility. A step parent (someone who marries your mum or dad later on who isn’t your biological parent) can apply for parental responsibility.

If your parents have died and asked someone to look after you as a Guardian in their will, the guardian will have parental responsibility.

If you have a special guardian, that person (or those people if there are more than one) will have parental responsibility for you, shared with your parents.

If your parents aren’t looking after you properly and there is a care order in place, the local authority where you live will have parental responsibility for you, along with your parents.

A parent doesn’t lose parental responsibility just because you aren’t living with them. If both your parents have parental responsibility for you, and they split up, they will both carry on having parental responsibility for you and should both be involved in big decisions that have to be made about you.

If you are adopted, your adoptive parents get parental responsibility for you. Anyone who had parental responsibility for you before the adoption will lose it, including your birth mother.

Being part of a family, and knowing who your family is, is a huge part of your wellbeing, your identity and who you are. If you’re not living with your birth parents, brothers and sisters, then keeping in touch can be really important.

Contact is the legal word used for the arrangements that are made for family members to keep in touch. Contact between brothers and sisters is sometimes called ‘sibling contact’.

When adults who are responsible for the welfare of children and young people (including Children’s Services, Social Workers and Judges) are worried about the children in a family, they have to think about:

  • What risks there are to you if you stay in your family
  • The relationships between you and your brothers and sisters
  • What you and each of your brothers and sisters think about what should happen
  • Who it will be best for you all to live with and whether you can be kept together
  • What contact arrangements should be put in place if you can’t be kept together

Arrangements that are made about where you should live, who will look after you, and anything else that you need for your care and support, will be included in your care plan. The care plan will also include details of the contact you should have with your birth family, including your brothers and/or sisters.

Contact arrangements that are put in place, and any change in contact, must make sure you will be safe.

Contact arrangements do not always happen in the way they are supposed to. They can break down for different reasons, but there are things you can do to try and get contact arrangements working.

The people with parental responsibility for you have a responsibility to bring you up and to care for you. Wherever you live, there will be rules about what you can do including what’s acceptable and not acceptable behaviour. Some rules and behaviours will be about day to day living in the house – things like keeping your bedroom tidy or doing the washing up. Other rules, especially as you get older, might feel more difficult for you, for example, rules about what time you have to be home by and where you are allowed to go.

Your parents – or the people with parental responsibility for you – have a responsibility to keep you safe and to help you grow and develop. They will also be thinking about anyone else who lives in the house, including any brothers or sisters you have. If you’re living with a foster carer, it could include other children staying there.

If you think a rule is unreasonable, you can try and talk to the people you live with about it and explain why it should be different. If you’re living with a foster carer or in a children’s home the Local Authority may share parental responsibility with your parents, so they will be able to make decisions about you. Your foster carer will do lots of the practical things your parents would do, like feeding you, making sure you have clean clothes, and going to parents’ evenings.

It’s not unusual to disagree with the people you live with. As you develop your own personality and beliefs about life, you may find you have different ideas to your parents. It could lead to disagreements and arguments. This happens for lots of families as children grow up. If it’s becoming very difficult to live with your family, because they want you to do things their way, and you want to do things differently, family mediation might help. This is an opportunity to talk through your differences and issues in a safe space with someone independent who may be able to help you find a new way of getting on.

You have the right to be protected from violence, abuse and neglect by the people who are supposed to be looking after you. In Wales, if you’re living with your family and someone is hurting you, you are protected by laws made both by the UK Government and the Welsh Assembly Government. These laws mean that you can be looked after by someone else, if necessary, either for a short time, or for a longer time. If the person hurting you is a member of your family, but doesn’t live with you, you are still protected. The person who has hurt you has broken the law and will be punished if the police are involved. Things should also be put in place to help you recover from what has happened. You can find out more about this in our section about being ‘At Home’.

Your family isn’t just your parents. It includes brothers and sisters, grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins…

Families don’t always get along. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t see other members of your family if you want to. You might be able to agree with your parents that you can see the people you want to see. You might want to see your grandparents – for example if you live with one parent, and you would like to see your grandparents from the other parent’s side. If you can’t agree, it may be possible for a court to make an order so that you can have contact with that person or people.

If the person you want to stay in touch with has hurt you or is a risk to you, a court may decide that it is not be in your best interests for you to have contact with them. The court will have to listen to you before it makes that decision.

Arrangements that are made about where you should live, who will look after you, and anything else that you need for your care and support, will be included in your care plan. The care plan will also include details of the contact you should have with your birth family, including your brothers and/or sisters.

Adoption

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.

Looked After

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.

 

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We are very grateful to Irwin Mitchell Solicitors for generously giving their time and expertise to check the content of this section of the website. October 2018.