The myth that the local authority (LA) gets to have 51% of mothers’ and fathers’ parental responsibility (PR) when they engage with a family about the welfare of their child is just that, a myth.

The local authority and the social workers who are assigned to your family never have what parents believe is a majority share in the duties that come with taking care of their child.

Parental responsibility is a legal term which refers to the duties every parent or carer has when looking after a child. It is not about having rights over a child.

The term parental responsibility is set out in S.3 of the Children Act 1989 which defines PR as:

β€œall the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property”.

The local authority does not automatically get to share those duties with natural parents just because they are talking to the family or have agreed to accommodate their child under a voluntary section 20 agreement.

The only times a local authority can share PR with natural parents is if the court has granted an interim care order or a final care order. 

If the local authority wants to share PR with a child’s natural parents, it will have to issue care proceedings and apply for an interim care order first.

When a court grants a local authority one of these care orders, natural parents do not lose their PR, they now share it with the local authority, and they share it equally.

The local authority should never make important decisions about a child without speaking to the child’s parents first.

This means that any important decisions about the child must be made with the child’s natural parents. These include decisions about:

  • Schooling and education in general
  • Food and nutritional needs
  • Religious and cultural practices
  • Choosing, registering or changing the child’s name
  • Medical treatment and operations
  • Accessing medical records
  • Holidays abroad and in a child’s home country
  • Legal representation for the child
  • Using the child’s name, photo, video and any identifying details, including their location, for fostering, adoption and other purposes, online and offline.

If natural parents do not agree with the local authority’s views on how to carry out a duty, natural parents have the right to challenge the LA by submitting an application to court to get a judge to decide the matter.

Throughout the child protection process, natural parents must be fully included in decision-making about their child’s needs. They must be invited to all meetings and conferences, such as Looked After children’s meetings, and child protection meetings and reviews if a child is subject to a safeguarding plan.

Additionally, the social worker managing the family’s case must keep everyone with PR informed of any developments relating to the child’s care and ensure they get their views on these issues.

The local authority has no automatic right to overrule, veto or dominate natural parents’ involvement with their children’s needs when they have PR, and they never have the lion’s share of PR, no matter what a social worker might tell you.

Many thanks to Tum Mum, who asked us to write a post on this topic.