Young People's Zone

I am a looked after child


It is important for children in care to be able to see their family. Your social worker should do everything possible to make sure this can happen. (The part of the law which says this is Schedule 2, paragraph 15, The Children Act 1989).

The right to see your family doesn’t just mean seeing your Mum or Dad or brothers or sisters, it can include grandparents, aunts and uncles - anyone that you consider important to you. The law is very clear about how important it is for children in care to see their brothers and sisters and this needs to be discussed when any plans are made about your care (The part of the law which says this is Schedule 1, paragraph 3(1), Care Planning, Placement & Case Review Regulations, 2010; Looked after children: contact with siblings – update to The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations and Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review 2014).

Contact with your family can take lots of different forms, such as:

  • Seeing them face to face – this might be at your placement, at the family home, at a contact centre or on an outside activity. Sometimes, a social worker or someone else might need to be there to make sure everything is OK (this is called ‘supervised contact’).
  • It can also be through email, letters and talking to them on the phone.  Phone calls, letters and emails are private and should not be overheard or looked at by foster carers or residential workers unless Children’s Services have decided that this must happen to keep you safe.

Children’s Services can help ensure that you see your family by:

  • Talking to you about who is important to you and who you would like to have contact with
  • Making sure contact with family is discussed at every LAC Review and that it is thought about when deciding where you should live
  • Helping to pay towards the cost of travelling to see your family (either for you or your family members) (the part of the law which says this is Schedule 2, paragraph 16, Children Act 1989)

Your carers shouldn’t cancel planned visits or contact with your family as a punishment.

There are a few reasons why you may not be able to see your family. Some of the main ones are:

  • If your social worker thinks that seeing your family might not be good for you (what the law calls ‘being in your best interests’). (The law which says this is Schedule 2, paragraph 15, Children Act 1989).They might think your family might harm you or say things that could upset you and make you feel bad. If they do have these worries, they should talk to you about it.
  • If a judge decided that you shouldn’t see your family because they thought that seeing your family wasn’t good for you (again, that it is ‘in your best interests’).
  • If your family hasn’t turned up for contact in the past. This can be really upsetting and your social worker might think that trying to arrange more contact is not good for you (not in ‘your best interests’). If this is the case, they should talk to you about it first.
  • If your family member doesn’t want to see you at the moment. This can be really difficult but it does sometimes happen. Your Mum or Dad might have difficulties they need to sort out or your brothers or sisters may want to settle into their new placement if they are in care. If this happens it is important that these reasons are explained to you and that you can start having contact again if the situation changes.
  • If your brothers or sisters have been adopted. Sometimes this means that a judge at court decided whether you should be allowed contact. (The law which says this is Section 46(6), The Adoption & Children Act 2002) but normally it is left to the adoptive parents to decide. If this is the case, your social worker can ask the adoptive family to allow contact but your social worker can’t force the adoptive parents to agree.

What can I do?

Be Prepared
It is important to think about who you would like to see and how often you would like to see them. When you think about this, try to remember all the other things that you have to do like school, homework, seeing friends and other stuff.

Talk to People
The most important people to speak to are:

  • Your Social Worker: Your social worker should ask you who you want to see and try and help to make sure this can happen. If there are any problems that mean you can’t see your family, they should explain this to you and try and look at different ways for you to stay in contact, such as sending letters (sometimes known as ‘letter box contact’.)
  • Your Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) (see The Name Game, Become): Your IRO is responsible for making sure that the plans your social worker makes are good for you (“in your best interests”) and this includes plans for seeing your family. They have to make sure that family contact is discussed at your LAC Review.  You can talk about what you want in your LAC Review meeting or discuss it privately with your IRO outside of the meeting.

Making a Complaint
There have to be very good reasons why you can’t see your family. If you have spoken to everyone and contact is still not happening, then you have the right to make a complaint about it. To find out more about making a complaint, please click here.

Get Some Help
If you still feel that no-one is listening, you can contact your local advocacy service or you may even want to consult a solicitor. You can find your local advocacy service by clicking here. Depending on your age and what has happened in the past, you may be able to apply for a court order to see your family. If you want to speak to a solicitor you can call Coram Children’s Legal Centre on 0207 713 0089 for advice.

But remember, trying to go to court can be complicated so it is normally best to try and get everything sorted out by talking to people first.

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