- 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.
You have the right to stay in touch with your family if you want to unless there is a care or placement order in place. The right to be in touch is your right. If you want to have contact with your parents, or one of your parents, but there’s a problem with this, a court might end up deciding what should happen, and whether this contact will be in your best interests. Even if you can’t see your family regularly, you may be able to keep in touch through letters or phone calls.
If there is a care order or a placement order in place for you, the local authority will be responsible for deciding whether you can have contact with your family.
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.
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.
It’s important that your family relationships are respected. If you are being looked after by the local authority, they can make arrangements for you to keep in touch with your brothers and sisters as well as other members of your family.
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.