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I’m in care and I want to know my rights

The law says children’s services must:

  • Make sure you have an up-to-date Care Plan. A Care Plan is a document that says how your needs will be met, who will be responsible for supporting you and what the long-term plans are for your care. Your Care Plan must reflect your views and you should be given a copy. Someone should sit down with you to make sure you understand what it says.
  • Make sure you have a Placement Plan. This forms part of your Care Plan and explains why your home was chosen and how the home will care for you on a day-to-day basis.
  • Make sure you have a Personal Education Plan (PEP). This can be part of your Care Plan and considers your educational needs and how you will be supported to achieve your educational goals.
  • Make sure you have a Health Action Plan. This considers your health care needs and how those needs will be met.
  • Provide you with an Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO). An IRO is responsible for making sure that the local authority is doing their best to take care of you – see below for more information. An IRO will chair your Review meetings and should work with you to ensure that these meetings are useful and include your wishes and feelings. You should be given the chance to chair your own Reviews, if you wish. The Care Plan must be regularly reviewed at the Review.
  • Account for your personal circumstances. Your religion, ethnic and racial background, culture and language should be taken into account when decisions are made about you. You have the right to maintain ties to the things that are important to you and your identity.
  • Help you have contact with important people in your life. This includes parents, siblings, extended family members and close friends.
  • Make sure a social worker visits you in your home regularly. They should also offer to speak with you alone if you would like.
  • Provide you with an independent advocate if you want one. You should also receive information on how to make a formal complaint.

If you have any questions or concerns about this, you can contact Help at Hand

How often should my social worker get in touch with me?

If you are in care, you should be visited within one week whenever you move home. After that, you should be seen every six weeks for the first year you are in a new home. If your plan says you should stay in your placement until you are 18, after a year it could be decided that visits can be less frequent, but they should not be less than every three months – or every six months if you are in long-term foster care.

If you would like to see your social worker more often, you can let them know.

If this doesn’t work, or you aren’t being listened to, you might want to make a formal complaint.

I want to know about advocacy and what an advocate can do for me

An advocate is there to help and support you and to make sure you are involved in all decisions about your life. Advocates help you speak out when things go wrong. They make sure you know your rights and help you to get the support you need from children’s services.

Find out more about Help at Hand’s role in advocacy.


How can my advocate help me?

They will always be on your side. They will tell you about your rights and give you information and advice about the things you should get from children’s services, your social worker, foster carer or where you are living.

They can go with you to meetings with your social worker, such as your Looked After Child (LAC) review, to help you say the things that are important to you.

If you are unhappy about how you are being treated by children’s services or if you are worried about what is happening, they can help sort out any problems or concerns.

Advocates can make sure people listen to you and help you to understand what professionals are saying.

You can get more information about your local advocacy service via the Coram Voice site where this information is taken from.

How can I have an advocate if I don’t have the capacity to tell the advocate what I want?

You are still entitled to an advocate if you feel this applies to you. For example, having a learning disability or being very young should not stop you having an advocate. You can have a non-instructed advocate that should get to know you and make sure you are at the centre of decision-making about your life.

My social worker says I have to move, but I don’t want to.

Unless there is a risk to your safety and a move needs to be made in an emergency, no move should take place unless and until:

  • Your views, wishes and feelings regarding a move have been heard and taken seriously.
  • You have had the opportunity to get an advocate if you want one.
  • You have had a chance to visit the new placement.
  • There has been a Review to discuss the proposed move, attended by your Independent Reviewing Officer, social worker, you and anyone else you would like to have present.

If you are still not happy about moving, you have the opportunity to make a formal complaint. You can ask that the proposed move is put on hold until your complaint has been properly responded to. This is called a placement freeze. You can ask for an independent advocate to help you voice your opinions and make your complaint.

If you have any questions or concerns about this, you can contact Help at Hand

I want to have more contact with my family.

Your local authority must help you have contact with your family if it is safe and in your best interests. When you are in care, you have a Care Plan (see above). Your Care Plan should include agreed contact arrangements with your family, as well as your views.

If you would like to have more contact with your family, there are things you can do:

  • You should tell your social worker. If you have an advocate, they can help you and may be able to talk to the social worker for you.
  • You can also speak to your Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO). Their job is to make sure you are well cared for and to try and resolve any issues with the local authority.
  • If you are still not happy with contact arrangements, you could make a formal complaint.
  • You could also speak to a solicitor who can explain how to get an order from the court and make an application on your behalf. If the court makes an order about your contact with family, the local authority must do as the court says.

If you have any questions or concerns about this, you can contact Help at Hand.


I want to know more about Children in Care Councils.

A Children in Care Council is a group of children in care in a local area. They work together to make sure children in care have a collective voice, representing your views to the local authority and helping the local authority make decisions on issues that impact young people.

Joining your local Children in Care Council is a great way to share your views, influence important people in your local authority and meet other young people with experience of being in care. 

If you would like to join, you can ask your social worker for more information about your local children in care council. 

How do I see the files and information children’s services have about me?

You have a right to request the information children’s services have about you. However, this can be refused if one of the following apply:

  • serious harm to your mental or physical health, or that of someone else, would be likely if you saw those records;
  • it would interfere with the prevention or detection of a crime;
  • the information identifies other people, unless those people have agreed to the information being disclosed. Note that social workers cannot use this excuse unless the person viewing the information would be likely to cause the individuals identified significant harm.
  • Your social worker may also carry out an assessment to check you can understand your request and information you will receive.

You can ask your social worker to guide you through the records and answer your questions. As records contain very personal information, some people may need support and even counselling. The social worker will be able to arrange this for you if you need it

I don’t feel like I’m being heard or listened to.

If you do not feel that professionals working with you are listening to your views, you can:

  • Ask for an independent advocate.
  • Talk to your Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO). You can also ask your IRO for a review meeting to discuss your views with your social worker and any other people you want to be there. Make a formal complaint .
  • Contact Help at Hand. We can talk through your concerns, provide advice and talk to professionals on your behalf if needed.
How do I make a complaint about my social worker or local authority?

Your social worker, Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) or any other professional working with you should be able to help you contact your local authority’s formal complaint department.

Contact details for children’s services complaints should also be on the local authority’s website.

Remember that you have the right to an independent advocate who can help you make a formal complaint (see information above on advocates).

Most complaints are dealt with in three stages. If you are not happy with the result at the end of each stage, you can ask to progress to the next stage.

At Stage 1 a manager will look into your complaint and write a response, outlining how they would like to move forwards to support you.

At Stage 2 you can request the matter is investigated by an independent investigator if you are unhappy with the response at Stage 1.

At Stage 3 you can request the decision and process is reviewed by a panel of three people.

If you remain unhappy after stage 3, you can ask for the local government ombudsman to look into your complaint further.

If you have any questions about this, you can contact Help at Hand.

I need someone to talk to about my problems.

If you don’t know where to turn, you can always call Help at Hand free on 0800 528 0731 and we’ll listen and try to point you in the right direction.

You can also call Childline on 0800 1111. They are available 24 hours a day if you need to speak to someone about how you are feeling, if something’s bothering you or if you need help.

How will I be prepared for turning 18?

Before you turn 18, you should have a Pathway Plan that sets out how children’s services are going to support you when you turn 18 and become an adult. This should include where you should be living and what financial support you should get.

If you are in your last year of school or college you should not be moved just because you have turned 18. You should be able to stay where you are until you finish your course.

Before you are 18 you should also have met and worked with your Personal Advisor who is there to support you once you turn 18.

I want to move.

If you are not happy in the home you are living in, you can ask to move. You should tell your social worker you want to move. If you need help getting people to listen to you, you are entitled to an advocate.

You can also contact Help at Hand

I’m not happy with my education.

You have a right to be in full-time education. Steps should be taken to make sure you can stay in the same school and not have to change if you are happy there.

If this is not happening, you should raise it with your social worker or Independent Reviewing Officer. You may want to get the support of an advocate.

You can also contact Help at Hand

I want to leave care.

You will automatically stop being a child in care when you turn 18. Before this, a decision to leave care is not automatic and depends on how you first became a child in care.

There are two ways in which you can become a child in care and the differences that makes for leaving care are set out below:


If you or your parents consent to you being looked after, this is called Section 20. If you are under the age of 16, it is up to your parents if they continue to consent for you to be looked after. If they stop consenting you can stop being looked after. If you are over 16 and you agreed to be looked after by the local authority, you can withdraw that consent.

It is a good idea to get some advice about this first as there are lots of things, like financial help, you may no longer be entitled to if you decide to withdraw consent and stopped being looked after. You can speak to an advocate to get more information on this.

Care Order

If you came into care because a court made an order that you should be looked after, that order will need to be discharged in order for you to leave care. This means going back to court. You might want to speak to an advocate about this (LINK to advocate question) or get some legal advice.

If you have any questions or concerns about this, you can contact Help at Hand.

Help at Hand is the Children’s Commissioner’s advice and assistance service for children in care, children who have a social worker or are working with social services, children living away from home and care leavers.

Children, young people, or their advocates can get in touch with Help at Hand for free by phone, website or email. 

Phone us free on

0800 528 0731

email us or send us a message via our online form

We are here to help

Before you decide to contact us, you might find the answer to your question is already here in our most frequently asked questions. Pick the option that applies to you for more information.

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