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Parental Responsibilities and Child Protection

There are a number of legal considerations within the realm of family law which relate to children.

Registering a birth

When a relationship is blessed with a child, the first thing to do is to make sure that the child’s birth is correctly registered. This page can tell you all about the steps you need to follow.

Parental responsibility

In UK law the mother of a child automatically gains parental responsibility and will only lose it if the child is adopted or placed for adoption. Fathers will get parental responsibility if they are married to the mother of the child and will not lose this if they divorce from the mother. Unmarried fathers can obtain parental responsibility if they jointly register the birth of the child with the mother (from 1 December 2003) or through a parental responsibility agreement/order. Different rules apply in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

For a parental responsibility agreement, you can fill in the government form and take it to your local county or family proceedings court to be signed and witnessed, along with the child’s birth certificate any proof of your identity. Two copies of the form should then be sent to:

Principal Registry of the Family Division 
First Avenue House 
42-49 High Holborn

For a court order, fill in the C1 form and send it to your local county or family proceedings court.

Disagreements about parentage

Where there are disagreements about who the parents of a child are, a DNA test can be taken to prove absolutely that someone is not the parent or show a 99.9% probability that they are. DNA tests are covered in depth in our child maintenance section.

Adopting a child

If a child is to be brought into a relationship through adoption, there are a number of laws to be followed. To be eligible to adopt you must be at least 21 years old. Consent must also be obtained from the child’s birth parents unless they cannot be located, are unable to give consent, or there could be danger to the child if they are not adopted. To adopt in the UK, you must have a permanent home here (or in the Channel Islands or Isle of Man) and you must have lived here for at least a year before you apply for adoption.

If you wish to apply for adoption, you can do so either through your local council’s agency or via a voluntary agency. You will also need to undergo a series of assessments which lasts around six months to ensure that you are suitable for adoption and are legally permitted to adopt a child.

If you are accepted, the agency will attempt to match you with a child. If you become an adoptive parent, you may apply to court for an adoption order to grant you parental responsibility (and to take parental responsibility away from the birth parents or anyone else having parental responsibility) once the child has lived with you for ten weeks. This court order will make the adoption permanent and give the child the same rights that they would have if they were your birth child.

To apply for an adoption order, use the A58 government form and send it to a family proceedings court.

Taking care of a child as a foster parent

Foster carers work together with local authorities to provide care for a child who is unable to live with its parents

Fostering is similar to adoption, with the difference being that parental responsibility for the child in question remains either with the birth parents or the local authority.

The length of time a child is fostered for can vary from a few days, in emergencies, or much longer term, when a child needs to live away from their birth parents until adulthood but does not wish to be adopted.

The best way to register your interest in fostering may be to get in touch with a fostering agency. The following link will allow you to find one close to you:

Anyone is eligible to apply to be a foster carer, although you will have to undergo a CRB and health check after you apply. Any others living with you who are 18 years old or more will also have to be checked.

Thereafter you will be called to a group preparation session along with other people who have applied. Then your suitability will be assessed and an independent fostering panel will recommend whether or not you should become a foster carer. The final decision on this will rest with your adoption service/agency.

Allowance for foster carers

Those serving as foster carers are entitled to a weekly allowance to cover the cost of raising a child. The rates change every April.  The amount of money you receive will depend on the age of the child you are fostering and the area of the country you live in – those in the South East and London get more due to the higher cost of living in those areas.

2013 to 2014 - minimum allowance rates

Weekly rates




11 to 15

16 to 17







South East






Rest of the UK






2014 to 2015 - minimum allowance rates

Weekly rates




11 to 15

16 to 17







South East






Rest of the UK






Tax relief for fosterers

Foster carers are also entitled to tax relief, whereby they will pay no tax on their first £10,000 made from fostering.

Special guardianship

Special Guardianship orders have been in place since 2002 and offer an alternative to adoption and fostering. A special guardianship order gives the guardian of the child parental responsibility until the child is 18, and unlike adoption orders, does not take away parental responsibility from the birth parents. However, the guardian(s) only has to consult with birth parents in extreme conditions.

Why Special Guardianship Orders were introduced

After a lot of research, it has been found that many older children accept that they can no longer live with their families but do not like the legal implications that being going through the adoption process involves e.g. severing all ties with their birth family. While long term fostering was an option for children in these circumstances, it often did not provide the sense of security that the child needed. Coupled with this is the fact that foster carers themselves can often feel frustrated that they are not able to make decisions for a child in their care, and so Special Guardianship Orders were put in place to satisfy both these issues. On top of this there are several other reasons why special guardianship may be preferred, for example:

  • A child has come to the UK unaccompanied and needs a stable home, but has strong family ties back in the country they came from.
  • For some members of ethnic minorities adoption conflicts with their religion and with kinship care.
  • A family member does not want to fully adopt the child but wants to be able to have control of the day to day decisions about their welfare.

How the process works

Each local authority will have its own procedure when working toward a special guardianship order. Applicants must give the local authority three months notice that they are going to apply, and the local authority must then produce a report about the children for the court once the application has been made. The report should cover all details about the child and whether they believe a special guardianship order would be in the child’s best interests. The court will then consider the case and come to the conclusion which they believe benefits the child the most.

What support is available?

If the child has lived in the care of the local authority at any time then financial support and other services may be available. If the child has never been in the care of the local authority then no support will be available.

Changes to a Special Guardianship Order

Unlike an Adoption Order, a Special Guardianship Order can be changed before the child reaches the age of 18, at which time the order will have ended anyway. This can only be done when the circumstances in which the order was made have changed considerably. It can also only be done by specific people.  

Claiming child benefit

If you have parental responsibility for a child under the age of 16, or under 20 if they are in qualifying training or education, then you are entitled to receive child benefit. This amounts to £20.50 per week for the eldest or only child and £13.55 for any additional children.

In the case of separation

When the parents of a child separate, arrangements will need to be made regarding how much time the child spends with each parent. This can be agreed between the parents, but when this proves difficult, a family mediation service can be used. If this proves unsuccessful a court may have to make these decisions on behalf of the parents.

Child maintenance

Child maintenance relates to money paid for the upbringing of a child from one parent of a child to the other when they have separated. This section will tell you all about the different ways in which child maintenance can be arranged, including through a court order.

Leaving a child home alone

Although the law gives no age at which it is acceptable to leave a child on their own at home, it is an offence to do so if they are left ‘in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to health’.

The above is taken from the Prevention of Cruelty to, and Protection of, Children Act 1889, and as such, any act of ill-treatment or neglect that causes unnecessary suffering or injury to health is a criminal offence.

The NSPCC recommends babies, toddlers and very young children should never be left alone. Children under 12 are rarely mature enough to be left alone for long periods of time, and children under 16 shouldn’t be left on their own overnight.


It is illegal for a teacher to smack a child that is not their own. However, a parent may do if it can be considered ‘reasonable punishment’. It would be considered unreasonable if a mark is left on the child, or if an implement such as a cane is used.

A parent can give consent for another person looking after their child, such as a babysitter or grandparent, to smack their child as long as it is reasonable.

Evidence given by children

A child of any age can give evidence in court. This will undoubtedly be a stressful process for the child. The advice below may help explain what will happen.

How the process works

A child must attend court if they have been summoned, but if the child is under the age of 14 they will not have to give an oath. Before the hearing the parent/guardian should be informed of all the details of the proceedings and in return should let the police know of any special needs the child might have. The child will also be told what will happen in court. It is up to the parent and child whether the parent attends court with the child.

There are special measures in place to protect children giving evidence; these include not having to see the defendant, being able to give evidence by a video link and the removal of wigs and gowns in court. If the defendant is found not guilty then the police can continue to provide protection for the child if the parent believes that the child is at risk. If the defendant is found guilty and they are sent to prison, they will not be allowed to contact the child.