Parental Responsibility (PR)
Parental Responsibility (PR)
A foster carer’s guide to Parental Responsibility (PR) and why it’s so important to understand it.
Introduction Parental Responsibility (PR)
It is vitally important as foster carers to understand our role from a legal point of view fully, and which policies, laws and rules govern and underpin our work and role as a carer. Not knowing your ‘facts’ in this respect can have implications further down the line if you inadvertently do not follow policy, procedure or protocol.
It can easily lead to an allegation or accusations of poor practice when in fact you were simply not availed of these facts or pointed in the right direction.
Understanding what underpins your role will empower you in conversations, decisions and actions surrounding your child whilst participating in team meetings. Professionally talking about our and our provider’s legal obligations can be helpful when we are advocating for our
You can find the National Minimum Standards (NMS) on FosterWiki: https://fosterwiki.com/wiki/national-minimumstandards-nms/
What is Parental Responsibility (PR)?
Parental Responsibility is defined in s 3(1) Children Act 1989 as being:
“all 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 term ‘Parental Responsibility’ attempts to focus on the parent’s duties towards their child rather than the parent’s rights over their child.
The legal rights and responsibilities mothers and most fathers have for a child are known as “parental responsibility”. A mother automatically has parental responsibility when a child is born. A father usually has responsibility if he is married to the mother or listed on the birth certificate.
You can find out the legal definition and requirements of PR here: https://www.gov.uk/parental-rights-responsibilities
This is huge for us as carers, and vital that we not only understand the legal implications around PR but also grasp it, accept it and engage with it on an emotional as well as professional level.
Why is this? Because we are unique in our work as carers, our work is carried out in our own homes, with our own families and the children and young people we care for becoming part of our families.
This unique way of working means that emotions play a large part in our role. Based on real love and care, it can be difficult to maintain the PR boundaries when we feel we know the children better than anyone.
We know our children, based on spending 24/7 with them on an emotional and physical level, all the other professionals in our children’s lives spend on average 1 hour with them every 6 weeks, they also come from a social work perspective and protocol.
This can often cause conflict for us as carers and we can feel side-lined, marginalised or frustrated at decisions made for the children that sometimes feel like it is not in their best interests, something we have based on the overall time we spend with them, rather than an hour’s snapshot, and feel we have a more consistent idea of what’s going on for them.
We also must respect that the birth families of our children also come before us in parental responsibility, this can sometimes be quite hard to process.
We must also remember that we must follow our children’s care plans, even if we don’t agree with them. Although interestingly the NMSs do state that as carers we:
“Contribute to the development of each child’s care plan, in collaboration with the child and the team”
So, it is important for the other professionals in our team to respect that we too are considered part of that care plan and that we are often the only people who know the children within a continual consistent framework and not just a brief ‘snapshot’ every 6 weeks.
What governs how a child is placed with you and who has Parental Responsibility
So why is it important to understand this legislation? Our children can come into care under one order, it can change and become another. It is important for us to know the legal framework that the child is placed with us, to not only illustrate that we are knowledgeable
about what is going on, but so we can understand who has PR, and what we need “delegated authority” for.
Section 20 Voluntary Accommodation
Section 20 of the Children Act 1989 provides the local authority with the power to provide accommodation for children without a court order when they do not have somewhere suitable to live. It is widely known as voluntary accommodation because the parents must agree to the child being accommodated.
Any person who has parental responsibility for a child may at any time remove the child from accommodation provided by or on behalf of the local authority under this section, essentially if a parent withdraws consent the child must be returned to their care immediately.
Here is a useful article containing section 20 information: https://www.communitycare.co.uk/2018/07/20/supreme-court-outlines-nine-key-principlessection-20-practice/
Here is the government legal bit on section 20 https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1989/41/section/20
Section 31 Full Care Order
A Care Order is an order which places a child under the care of the local authority. This is otherwise known as a child “being in care”. This order is applied for by the social services department of the local authority and gives the local authority parental responsibility for the child.
When a child is made the subject of a Care Order the local authority has legal responsibility for the child (PR). Parents will have PR, but the LA can limit that PR if this is necessary for the interests of the child, Here is the legislation: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1989/41/section/31
Here is an article on Sec 31: https://childlawadvice.org.uk/information-pages/care-orders/
Other care orders:
An Interim Care Order
An Interim Care Order, like a Care Order, grants the local authority parental responsibility.
This means they can make decisions about the child’s living arrangements and do not need the parents’ permission to do so.
The child is allowed to stay with the parent/s or family member, but it is the social worker’s duty to the family to befriend, advise and assist them.
This means the social worker will visit the family regularly, offer support and resources and may require the parents to do various things to improve their parenting. A Supervision Order will last for a year but the local authority may ask the court to extend it for up to three years.
Emergency Protection Order
Any person may apply for such an order but applications are typically made by social workers.
These court orders are rare and are only made when the social worker believes the child is at immediate risk of actual harm and needs to be removed to a place of safety. They only last for a short period and are normally followed by an application for a Care Order which will be considered within days.
These give the local authority permission to place the child for adoption. These orders are normally made for younger children and seriously restrict a parent’s legal responsibility for a child. The order is only applied once the social worker is certain of the long-term plans for the child.
This court order completely removes a parent’s legal responsibility for the child and gives it to the child’s adoptive parent/s. This order is only applied for after the child has been placed with prospective adopters and has resided with them for at least 10 weeks. They are permanent and cannot be discharged.
Discharge of a Care Order
The social worker may apply to the court to remove a Care Order previously made if satisfied that the child is presently well cared for and safe.
Please note that this is not an order although often erroneously called a PPO by both Social Workers and Police officers.
This is a police power and allows an officer to remove a child from their home or from where they are found to a place of safety (Social Services) for up to 72 hours when there is an immediate risk of a child suffering significant harm (s46 Children Act 1989)[Children Act 1989 (legislation.gov.uk)]
Delegated authority is the process that enables carers to make everyday common-sense decisions about the children and young people in their care.
These might be things like signing school consent forms, allowing them to go to friends’ houses for sleepovers, taking part in activities and even something as seemingly ‘small’ as having their hair cut.
Those that hold parental responsibility can delegate authority to carers to make these day-to-day decisions.
As discussed carers never have parental responsibility for a child, so they can only make decisions about a child or young person where that authority has been granted/delegated to them by the local authority and/or the parents.
Delegated authority and decisions around the child can depend on many factors: the child or young person’s age, legal status, views, and care plan, plus the views of their parents and the experience and views of the carers.
Consultation, discussions and collaboration are essential, also be proactive in establishing your delegated authority working document, all this is essential for successful cohesive working partnerships between you, the team around the child and their parents.
It can sometimes feel hard, especially when it’s an on-the-day or in-the-moment decision and a social worker is not available.
That’s why it’s good to ask for a delegated authority form to be drawn up when the child is placed with you and review it if and when things change.
For example, delegated authority document is often called a ‘Delegated authority tool’
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