What does being a child in care mean?

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What is the Children Act? 1989

The Children Act is an important law for children and young people. It started on 14th October 1991. It is about how children should be brought up and cared for.


What does the act say?

It says that:

  • When a court or a local authority, which you may know as the council, is making decisions about a child, their first thought must be what is best for that child
  • Children should be brought up in their own family whenever possible
  • Children should not be taken away from their family, without the family agreement, unless the child is at risk of harm
  • A local authority must work together with parents and children
  • A court must put children first when making decisions
  • When children are being looked after by local authorities, they and their parents have rights


Why is the act important?

It says how you can be protected and gives you certain rights. It says that you are a person who must be treated with respect.

This means

  • You should be protected
  • You have to be listened to
  • If a local authority is deciding what should happen to you they have to find out what you feel and want. They have to tell you what is happening and why. They have to decide quickly what to do for you
  • You have to be told your rights
  • You can talk about any worries you have or make a complaint if things go wrong



The Act says the local authority must help you if you will suffer without help or if you have a disability and need help.

The local authority may do this by finding you a place in an after-school or holiday club. Sometimes, to help you, they must help your family. They may send along a home helper if it is what is needed or perhaps they may offer a place in a nursery or a playgroup to your brother or sister who is too young to go to school.



The act says that if you are in danger or at risk or harm in some way then you must be protected. It says that the local authority must listen if they are told you are in danger. They must look into what is happening and if necessary, go to court and ask the court to decide what is best for you. The court can make orders saying what is to happen to you.

The court will only make an order if it thinks this will make things better for you. If it doesn't believe that, it will make no order.



The Act gives you other rights as well as those talked about earlier. These are

  • A right to have your voice heard in some court cases that are about you
  • A right to have your own solicitor and tell him or her what you what you want to happen if you are able to understand what is involved
  • A right, in some cases, to ask a court to look again at an order a lower court has made
  • A right to say no to being assessed or medically examined (again if you understand what this involves)
  • A right to be told certain things by the local authority if you are in care


Family separation

The Act is also about children whose parents (whether married or not) are separating or divorcing or did so in the past. The act encourages parents to agree about their future between them without going to court. But if they cannot do this, there is a range of orders the court can make that could affect you including:

  • A residence order which says where you should live and with whom
  • A contact order which says who you can visit or stay with overnight or who can visit you or who can write to you or who you can talk to on the phone
  • A prohibited steps order which stops a named person from doing a particular thing unless they have asked the court first
  • A specific issue order which lets the court decide about something which you and / or your parents cannot agree about


You may not agree with what your parents asked for or want to put your own ideas forward. If so, the Act says the court can let you ask for one of these orders yourself. But first the court has to be sure that you understand what is involved.

Even if you live with one parent rather than the other, as a result of what the court decides, both your parents will go on having responsibility for you while you are a child.

If you want to know more about this part of the Act, ask a solicitor, law centre, Citizens Advice Bureau, or ring the Childrens Legal Centre on 0300 330 5480.


Who can you speak to?

Your own local authority

If you are provided with accommodation by a local authority or are in care or go into care then ask your social worker to tell you about:

  • How plans are made for your future
  • How you will be able to have a say in these
  • Orders that you can ask the court to make
  • How to complain if you are unhappy about how you are looked after - ask for a complaints leaflet and, if you are in a childrens home, the telephone number of the person independent of the home - to whom you can complain - Regulation 33 Officers
  • Help that you can be given when you leave care
  • Your local Citizens Advice Bureau
  • Childrens Legal Centre (Tel 0300 330 5480) Monday - Friday between 8am to 6pm
  • Childline (Tel 0800 1111) 24 hour freephone service
Council Offices