There are several instances in the media this week of Kandyce Downer being incorrectly described as a foster carer of the child she killed. See, for example here in the Telegraph. If Ms Downer had been a foster carer, there would have been local authority oversight of the household. The sentencing remarks of the judge are clear that she was a special guardian, not a foster carer.
In view of this, and some general public confusion about ‘who is a parent?’ (e.g. amongst ‘Archers’ listeners) we are setting out a very basic list here. Legally, (not necessarily biologically), the person with ‘parental responsibility’ (PR) can take decisions about a child. PR does not mean being a responsible person in the sense of being a good parent; it is just a label for who has these rights and duties.
This is intended to be a very brief note – for details about PR, see this Family Rights Group guide.
1. A mother who gives birth has PR. This may be shared with others, as below. In a same sex partnership, one woman may be a second parent and also have PR.
2. A father will have PR if he is married to the mother or (since 2003) his name is on the birth certificate. This can be changed if there is evidence to the contrary. e.g. DNA tests in a court dispute. He can also get PR through a court order.
3. A foster carer never has PR unless they get it in some other way, as below, when they will no longer be a foster carer. Sometimes a relative is approved as a foster carer, but most are unrelated.
4. A local authority has PR under a care order or emergency protection order. It is still shared by parents but the local authority has control.
5. A special guardian is an individual (usually a relative) who has applied to be one and then gets a court order, which gives them PR. The local authority will not have PR. The parents still retain some PR, but day to day decisions by the special guardian take precedence.
6. A relative or other adult can get PR through a child arrangements order (CAO) as to with whom the child will live (previously known as a residence order). PR here is shared with parent(s) who already have it.
7. Adoption completely transfers all PR to the adopters.
8. A step-parent can apply to adopt but it is more usual for him/her to make a PR agreement with the birth parent (his/her partner). This is the ‘Archers’ scenario.
Foster carers (3 above) are paid allowances. Depending on circumstances, special guardians (5) and adopters (7) are entitled to be assessed for financial support. Holders of a CAO (6) might be able to apply for financial support.
NB We have omitted surrogacy arrrangements, to keep this short.