When a child is taken into care, parents can ask straight away for contact to be set up, even if the local authority does not tell parents they can do this.
Many parents find that they do not get contact at the start of child protection investigations, and then find that their children do not want to see them, or they are being told by social workers that their children do not want to have contact.
Keeping that connection with your child is vital to ensure no negative external influences affect your child’s state of mind, and that your child can continue to feel that you love and care for them.
The right to contact can be found in Section 34(1) of Children Act 1989, which says that children’s social services must allow a child to have reasonable contact with: his or her parents; guardians; anyone who looked after the child under wardship just before a care order was made; and anyone with a residence order or child arrangements order for residence just before a care order was made.
If you have parental responsibility for your child, the local authority must tell you where your child is once they enter care, and can only ever withhold this information if it is not in the child’s best interests to share their location.
You are entitled to ask for help with travel costs to get to and from the contact sessions if paying for these expenses would cause you financial hardship. You can ask the local authority what their policy is on helping with these costs, as they have the power to fund your travel.
Once contact starts, if you think the level of contact you are getting with your child is not good enough, you should ask the social worker for a written statement explaining the reasons for the current level of contact. Getting this written statement is very important, as it establishes the local authority’s position about the contact routine and prevents the local authority from adding more reasons later on.
You should also send a proposal to the social worker in writing (text or email) for the kind of contact you think is appropriate for you and your child.
If a social worker refuses to change the format or frequency of the contact, Section 34 of the Children Act gives you the power to apply to the family courts to ask for a different contact routine, or for contact if you have not yet been able to see your child.
If you fit into any of the carer categories in the second paragraph of this article, you do not need permission to submit an application for contact. Anyone else who wants to apply for contact will need to get the court’s permission.
The courts must take into account the following principles when deciding to grant contact or change the terms of a current contact arrangement:
- If the contact is in the child’s best interests
- Reasonable contact between the parents and child should continue
- The application is part of an effort to set aside a care order
- Parents can show a change of circumstances which the local authority should have acknowledged when putting together the child’s care plan
The court is also required to acknowledge that ongoing contact with natural parents:
- Lets a child know that his or her parents still love them and care about them, and that this is important for a child’s sense of security
- Protect against a child feeling abandoned or as if they have suffered a loss, which can be deeply damaging to the child
- Ensure the child remains connected to his or her roots, and cultural, religious and ethnic identities.
If the local authority decides to stop contact, they must get a court order before stopping that contact. It is not legal for a social worker to stop contact without getting a court order first.
The only exceptions to this legal duty are: if there has been an incident of some kind which the local authority thinks is serious enough to stop contact, or if the quality of contact between you and your child has gotten worse over a long period of time.
The local authority can then pause contact for up to 7 days. However it still cannot stop contact for more than 7 days, or indefinitely, without a court order.
If a local authority has failed to comply with a contact arrangement, you can ask the court to attach a penal notice against the head of the children’s social services in the local authority, in your application for contact. If the local authority continue to breach an order for contact, the court can then issue a punishment such as a fine, or imprisonment.
Many thanks to Victoria Hudson for drawing our attention to the article below, which led to us to write this post.