Contact with a child in care – what parents or relatives need to know.

Can I apply for contact with a child in care? 

If your child has a social worker, is in foster care, or living with another family member under a final care order or interim care order, and you are experiencing issues in having contact with your child, you may need legal advice about ensuring you continue to see your child.  

The starting point for the court is that reasonable contact between a child and their parents/family members should continue taking account of the advantages and disadvantages of contact together, with the effect on the long-term plan for the child. Your first port of call will be your child’s social worker who assesses the child’s need to have contact with family members. 

The Local Authority also has a general duty to promote contact with wider family members including grandparents and siblings, under Schedule 2(15) Children Act 1989. 

Under section 34(1) Children Act 1989, the Local Authority must allow the child reasonable contact with:  

  • His/her parents
  • Any guardian
  • Any person who held a Residence Order, or Child Arrangements Order for residence, immediately before the Care Order was made
  • Any person who had care of the child under wardship immediately before the Care Order was made.

Should you be experiencing financial difficulties, the Local Authority have the power to assist with costs associated with the contact i.e. provide bus passes so that you can regularly attend contact. However, decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis. 

The Court of Appeal has recognised that if a parent and child are no longer living together, continuing contact can: 

  • Give the child the security of knowing their parents love them and are interested in their welfare 
  • Avoid the damaging sense of loss associated with abandonment 
  • Create a sense of approval from natural parents about the foster family 
  • Provide a sense of personal and familial identity to the child to ensure the child remains connected to his or her roots, and cultural, religious, and ethnic identities. 

The Local Authority can stop contact for up to 7 days. This can only last for a maximum of 7 days and reasons must be provided in writing.  To refuse contact beyond 7 days, the Local Authority must obtain a Court Order. The court has the power to make an order allowing the Local Authority to refuse contact with a child in care.  Such Orders can be made in any court proceedings concerning a child, including private proceedings. It is important, therefore, that if you have contact with a child who isn’t in your care, you don’t miss it unnecessarily as this could lead to a reduction in contact or it stopping altogether.  

What if I’m not happy with the level of contact the social worker is allowing?  

Before going to court, we can help you to try and resolve any issues around contact with social services by advising you in relation to ‘Looked After Child’ review meetings (also called LAC review meetings) or about contact planning meetings. If negotiations with the social worker are not achieving the outcome you wanted, you may be able to take the matter to court.  

You can make proposals for the level of contact you would like and set out your reasons why you feel this is best for the child.  

What can the court order? 

  • that contact take place between the relevant person and the child if it has been stopped,  
  • that contact is increased  
  • in some circumstances the court may reduce contact,  
  • and in exceptional circumstances it can order that the Local Authority can stop contact. 

The court can grant an interim order allowing contact, changing the arrangements of contact (e.g moving contact away from a contact centre into the community), allowing unsupervised contact or authorising the Local Authority to refuse contact.  

When the court is asked to determine any question with respect to contact with a child in care, the child’s welfare shall be the court’s paramount consideration. The court will also have regard to the welfare checklist set out at s1(3) Children Act 1989. 

Can I get Legal Aid to make an application? 

If you are involved in care proceedings, legal aid is non means and non-merits tested for everyone with parental responsibility for the child. The Legal Agency would, therefore, cover the costs of an application for contact with a child in care.  

If there are no current proceedings, legal aid is still available but on a means and merits tested basis. 

 Please contact Rachel Hepple directly on so that we can assess your eligibility for this type of legal aid.  

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