Introduction

  • You might be someone who really misses seeing your parents, brothers and sisters, grandparents or other people in your family.
  • Or you could be very happy with how things are.
  • It’s common for children and young people to want to see and be with their families as much as possible.
  • But not everyone feels this way. Some want to see their families only now and again. Others want to cut off from their family altogether.

Everyone has their own feelings and their own personal story.

Your feelings and views about staying in touch with people in your family are very important.

Feelings about your family can change over time. You might feel unsure about your feelings. There is no right and wrong way to feel.

Your rights - general

All children and young people have the right to family life.

This is part of the Human Rights Act – a law passed by our Parliament in London in 1998. It protects everyone.

Your relationships with your parents and others in your family – adults and children – must always be treated with respect and care. You should only be stopped from seeing family members when there are serious worries about your safety and happiness.

What two things are really important about your right to stay in touch with your family?

Your feelings and views will be a very important part of any decisions about you staying in touch with your parents, brothers and sisters and others in your family.

When you live away from your family, the people who look after you should encourage and help you to stay in touch and have good times with your family. This would only not happen to protect your safety and happiness.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child also gives you family rights. This says that children who live away from their parents have the right to see them regularly, unless this would not be the best thing for you. So this means:

  • The Human Rights Act and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child give you the right to see and spend time with people in your family who are important to you. Unless this is not the best thing for you.
  • Your right to stay in touch with your family concerns your parents, brothers and sisters, grandparents, and other family members you are very close to. It could also apply to foster carers and others who you lived with in the past.
  • There would have to be strong reasons behind staff or carers reading private messages and letters between you and your family, or listening to your conversations. If there are not strong reasons, they could be breaking your rights.
  • If your safety and happiness are at risk, you might not be able to see and spend time with your family, in the way you want to. Or as often as you want to. Staff or carers might have to read or listen to information shared between you and your family.
  • If you are locked up (in a mental health inpatient unit, a secure children’s home or a prison for example), it’s going to be more difficult to have good times with your family. However, the people who work with you should still help you stay in touch with your family.
  • Wherever you live, you must never be stopped from seeing your family as a punishment.
  • Staff and carers must never put your family down. They must not insult or make fun of the people you care about.
  • Your family rights never go away. If you are in care and you no longer see someone special to you (adult or child), and would like to find out about them, your social worker should be able to help. You have the right to know about the important people in your life, even if you no longer see or live with them.

Thank you for reading this first section. You’ve covered all the basics. Brilliant! If you want some extra information about your rights where you live, please see the ‘Your rights – extra’ section down below.

Your rights – extra

This section gives you information about your extra rights in different places.

Words in “quotation marks” come from laws and legal rules. Laws and legal rules must be followed by the people who look after you.

Children’s home

The person in charge of your children’s home must make sure there are “suitable facilities” for you to spend time with your parents and family members. This means there should be somewhere nice you can enjoy being with your parents and other family members.

The person in charge of your home must make sure you can have telephone calls and send messages (including email) to parents and family members “at all reasonable times”. What’s reasonable will depend on the situation, of course. You’ll have a good idea about what’s fair. Telephone calls and other messages can be stopped or restricted to protect your welfare.

If you are disabled, the person in charge of your home must make sure you have “aids and equipment” to stay in touch with your parents and family members. This means the person in charge of your home must take extra action to make sure you get your family rights.

Your local council must protect your welfare. Your welfare includes you being listened to, having your needs met and protecting you from harm.

If you have a brother or sister in care, the council must do its very best to find you a home together (but this doesn’t apply if adoption is being looked at for you).

If a judge decided that you need to be in care, your council must allow you “reasonable contact” with your parents. But this duty doesn’t have to be followed if contact would be unsafe or not the best thing for you. Stopping you having contact with your parents would be a serious decision that only a judge could decide – though your council can do this in an emergency.

If you live in a children’s home because you or your parents asked for this, then you and your family should be able to make decisions about seeing each other.

Finally, remember that your council must do its best to find out and take into account your wishes and feelings before making any decisions about where you live, which family members you see or anything else that is important to you. This duty applies to your social worker and anyone else in the council making decisions that affect you.

Hospital or other health place

The NHS Trust that is responsible for the ward or unit you are staying in must do its work with your welfare in mind. Your welfare includes you being listened to, having your needs met and protecting you from harm.

Hospitals should have facilities where parents and brothers and sisters can stay overnight, relax and have meals.

When you are in hospital, the people looking after you must design your care in partnership with you. They must help you to make decisions, and be involved in decisions, as much as possible. This would include your choices about seeing family members.

Immigration detention

Children who don’t have an adult looking after them (often described as unaccompanied or separated) must only be locked up as a very last resort – while you wait to be collected by family members or by social workers for instance.

Children may be locked up with one or both parents though this should be rare. If you are in detention with a parent, you have the right to be together and do usual family things – though this can be limited by the centre for security and safety reasons.

You should be given paper, envelopes and stamps to help you stay in touch with your family. Staff should not read letters you send or receive, unless there are security or safety risks.

A telephone must be available for you to use during the day.

You should be allowed family visits every day (except Christmas Day or Boxing Day). Visiting must be allowed for at least five hours a day. The centre must provide somewhere where families can have drinks and snacks. A play area should be provided for children who visit the centre.

Staff who have immigration jobs must carry out their work with your welfare in mind. Your welfare includes you being listened to, having your needs met and protecting you from harm.

If one of your parents is to be detained without you, or in a different place from you, the effect on your welfare must be very carefully looked into.

Prison

If you are in a young offender institution, the governor must give special attention to you keeping in touch with your family.

The law says you have the right to send and receive a letter when you first arrive, and then once every week.

You have the right to two visits from family and friends a month, unless a senior person in government says differently. A senior person in government can also stop named people from visiting you.

The governor of your prison can allow you extra visits and letters as a reward or when this is needed for your own welfare, or the welfare of your family.

The governor must carry out his or her work with your welfare in mind. Your welfare includes you being listened to, having your needs met and protecting you from harm.

If you are in a secure training centre, the law says you can send three letters a week (at no cost to yourself) and that you have the right to at least one visit every week.

The normal length of visits must be one hour.

You have the right to send and receive more letters (which you pay for) every week and to make and receive any number of telephone calls that you pay for.

Your secure training centre must take into account the importance of visits and you having contact with your family. Any disruption to your education or training must be kept to a minimum, though.

The way your secure training centre supervises visits must not be “unnecessarily intrusive”. This means you should have as much privacy as possible during visits.

School

The law says schools where children live must protect and look after your welfare. Your welfare includes you being listened to, having your needs met and protecting you from harm.

There are legal rules (called standards) that boarding schools and residential schools must follow.

The standards say you must be able to contact your parents or carers in private. Schools must give you help to stay in touch with your family if this is needed. If you live in a residential special school, and you need communication aids to stay in touch with your family, these should be sorted for you.

Schools can look at emails or other messages if there are concerns about your safety.

Secure children’s home

The person in charge of your children’s home must make sure there are “suitable facilities” in which you can spend time with your parents and family members. This means there should be somewhere nice you can spend time with your parents and other family members.

The person in charge of your home must make sure you can have telephone calls and send messages (including email) to parents and family members “at all reasonable times”. What’s reasonable will depend on the situation, of course. You’ll have a good idea about what’s fair. Telephone calls and other messages can be stopped or restricted to protect your welfare.

If you are disabled, the person in charge of your home must make sure you have “aids and equipment” to stay in touch with your parents and family members. This means the person in charge of your home must take extra action to make sure you get your family rights.

Your local council must protect your welfare. Your welfare includes you being listened to, having your needs met and protecting you from harm.

If a judge decided that you need to be in care, your council must allow you “reasonable contact” with your parents. But this duty doesn’t have to be followed if contact would be unsafe or not the best thing for you. Stopping you having contact with your parents would be a serious decision that only a judge could decide – though your council can do this in an emergency.

Finally, if you are a child in care* remember that your council must do its best to find out and take into account your wishes and feelings before making any decisions about where you live, which family members you see or anything else that is important to you. This duty applies to your social worker and anyone else in the council making decisions that affect you.

*As you may know, there are three different legal reasons why a child or young person lives in a secure children’s home:

  1. They are in care and a court has agreed with their local council that they need to spend time in a secure children’s home to keep safe, OR
  2. They have been accused of committing a crime, and a court has sent them to custody while lawyers get their case ready for the main hearing (this is called ‘remand’), OR
  3. They have been found guilty of committing a crime, and a court has said they must spend time in custody.

Children who are remanded to custody automatically become a child in care. This means your council has duties to do its best to listen to you and take into account your wishes and feelings, including about your family.