Foster Care Fortnight 2023 takes place between the 15th and the 28th of May. It is the UK’s biggest foster care awareness raising campaign, delivered by the fostering charity, The Fostering Network.
To coincide with the campaign we look at foster care, and in particular the issue of whether parents can visit their child in foster care.
There are in fact two quite separate types of foster care: private fostering and fostering under a care order.
Private fostering is where the parents agree that the child should live with someone who is not a close relative of the child, for a period of more than 28 days. The local authority must be informed of the arrangement. They will check that it is suitable for the child, and remains suitable through the duration of the arrangement.
A parent can end a private fostering arrangement at any time, without notice.
Fostering under a care order is quite different.
When a court makes a care order in favour of a local authority it is the decision of the local authority where the child should live. The child can be placed either with their parents, with relatives, in a children’s home, or with foster parents. (The child can also be placed for adoption, if the court makes an order allowing this.)
Fostering under a care order ends when the care order ends, unless before then the local authority make other arrangements as to where child will live. A care order ends when the child reaches 18, or it is discharged by the court.
Note that the court can make an Interim Care Order, placing the child temporarily under the care of the local authority while care proceedings are ongoing. An Interim Care Order can last up to 8 weeks, and can be renewed for periods of up to 28 days.
And in an emergency the local authority can apply for an Emergency Protection Order, enabling the local authority to remove the child from the parents. An Emergency Protection Order can be made for a maximum period of 8 days, with a possible extension of up to a further seven days.
If a child is placed with foster parents under a care order the parents can only get the child out of foster care without the agreement of the local authority by applying to the court to discharge the care order. Whether the order is discharged is a matter for the court, and will obviously require a significant change in circumstances from when the order was made.
We now turn to the issue of whether parents can visit their child in foster care. Obviously, what follows only applies to fostering under a care order.
The law imposes upon the local authority a duty to provide the parents (and certain other persons, including those who have parental responsibility for the child) with a reasonable amount of contact with the child.
The local authority should also inform the parents where the child is living, unless they have reasonable cause to believe that the child’s welfare would be prejudiced if this information was disclosed.
Parental contact with a child in foster care under a care order should be arranged between the parents and the local authority. If the parents are not happy with the contact being offered, they should raise this with the child’s social worker. If the matter cannot be agreed then the parents can apply to the court for a contact order.
The court will decide what contact, and what type of contact, should take place, starting from the presumption that reasonable contact between the parents and the child should continue.
If the court decides that no contact would be best for the child it can make an order allowing the local authority to refuse contact.
If the court makes a contact order it can attach conditions to it, for example that that it be supervised, or that it comprise indirect contact only, such as by letters, emails or telephone calls.
If you wish to apply to the court for contact then you should seek expert legal advice. If there are current care proceedings legal aid can cover the costs of the application. Otherwise, you will need to check whether legal aid is available.
For more information about care proceedings, see here.
Ian Walker Family Law & Mediation Solicitors are award-winning family solicitors and are recognised as one of the leading family law firms in the South West of England with services covering family law & mediation, divorce, child law, and arbitration. Please contact the team to speak to our specialist solicitors.