Parent and child

Parenting in the UK

This course has questions that will test your understanding. You do not have to enter your name to complete the course. If you do, you can choose to print a certificate with your name on when you have finished the course. We will not save your name or test score, or share it with anyone.

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Child with parentsWelcome to this ‘parenting in the UK’ course. It will give you important information about the laws and expectations around bringing up a child in the UK, as some may be quite different to your home country. 

All parents want to make sure their children are safe, healthy and happy, and have opportunities for their future. Moving to a new country has many challenges, as there are different laws, different systems, different expectations and of course a different language. Families have also faced trauma escaping from danger in their own countries. And they will be feeling additionally stressed and anxious whilst waiting for a decision on their asylum case.

Parents want to ensure their children get the most out schools and find pathways to future study and careers. So this course explains the UK’s education system, what parents can expect of schools, and also what schools expect of parents.

It then goes on to explain some of the laws and expectations designed to protect children from physical or emotional harm and how this impacts on the way parents supervise and discipline their children.

The information in this course has been selected by people who are and were themselves asylum seekers. It is based on what they wish they had known when they first arrived. They hope it can help you avoid problems arising, because what seems normal to you might actually create trouble here. It also has information that local councils want all parents to know.

Protecting a child from physical and emotional harm

Parents play the central role in looking after their children and ensuring no harm comes to them, but it is useful to know that local councils also have a legal duty to ‘safeguard, protect and promote the welfare of children’ in their area and legal powers to deliver this. 

Social workers, who work for the local council, are professionals that help families solve problems and ensure children are safe from physical and emotional harm. It also includes health visitors, schools, and the police. The role they play in the life of a child here might be quite different to the role they play in your home country. Many people find them much more involved in a child’s life, and with more powers to intervene when they believe a child is at risk of being harmed. If anyone raises a concern about a child with the council, social workers or the police have a duty to investigate. They will contact the parents and explore concerns with them, and decide if any action should be taken to protect the child.

Every country develops an approach to keeping children safe from harm and understanding childhood development. The UK has its own particular approach, both in law and in what is expected of parents. Every parent new to the UK needs to know this as soon as possible. Otherwise parents could get into difficulty with the council and even have their child taken away. The information in this course can prevent problems arising in the future.

As well as helping you understand your responsibilities as parents, this course will also help you understand your rights as parents.


In UK law, which of the following has a duty to ensure children are protected from physical or emotional harm

(Tick all that apply)

The UK education system

Teach and children in ClassroomIn UK law, children must be in full-time education between the ages of 5 and 16 and children aged over 16 and up to 18 must be in some form of education or training. Parents are legally required to ensure their children go to school.

Children under 5 have the option to go to pre-school, which is called ‘nursery’.

It is compulsory for Children aged 5 to 11 to go to primary school.

Children aged 11 to 16 must go to secondary school.

Children aged over 16 and up to 18 must be in some form of education or training.

More detail about each of these stages will follow in this course.

Education is free in schools funded by the state. There are other schools which charge fees. These are called independent or private schools. Universities and colleges charge tuition fees.

Most state-funded schools are mixed schools. It means they teach boys and girls together.

All schools teach a core curriculum set by the government, which includes English, maths and science. Children’s progress is tested at the age of 7 and 11. When they are 13, children choose which subjects to study for their GCSEs (General Certificate of Secondary Education), which they take at 16. Based on these results, they can then choose subjects to study for A-Level (Advanced Level) exams, which they take at 18. Or they can choose skills-based courses, apprenticeships and training. Some children may then go on to study for a degree at university, or they may choose college courses leading to work-based qualifications.

In addition to the core curriculum, each school offers other subjects and activities. Ask the school for details and check its website. Always try to read the information the school sends to parents, such as school newsletters, so you know about opportunities for your child. Please ask someone to help you if your English is limited. 

Before your child is 5: nursery

NurseryPre-school education, before your child is 5, is not compulsory, but it is an opportunity to help children get ready for school so they can get the most from it.

Families on certain types of asylum support are entitled to free early-years childcare for 2 year olds.

All children aged 3 and 4 qualify for 15 hours’ free education a week, during school term time. This is called ‘nursery‘. They can start the term after their 3rd birthday

Every family with a child under 5 will also have a health visitor who will visit them at home from when the child is born until they start primary school.

Health visitors work for the NHS (National Health Service). They are qualified and registered nurses or midwives with additional training in public health. Health visitors support the health of the whole family. They check the child’s health and development, provide advice on feeding and managing child behaviour, and help mothers and fathers adjust to becoming new parents. You may find some of their advice differs from your own experience and practice back home. For example, in the UK, it is advised that a baby should be introduced to solid foods at the age of around 6 months. This may be earlier or later than you are used to. 

You can discuss any concerns with your health visitor, and they can provide a lot of helpful and up to date information about local services. 


How many hours of free term time nursery education are all children aged 3 and 4 entitled to?

Education from 5 to 11: primary school

Classroom of young childrenAfter Nursery a child will go on to Primary School.  

Children start primary school, full-time, in the school year in which they turn 5. The school year runs from September to July. If your child was born in September, it will be one of the oldest in the class and if they were born in August they will be one of the youngest, with some children nearly a year older.

The school year is split into three terms – autumn, spring, and summer – with a one week long half-term holiday in the middle of each. School is on Monday to Friday and starts between 8:30 and 9 in the morning and ends between 3:30 and 4 in the afternoon. It may close earlier on a Friday. Each school will have its own timetable.

The first class they will attend is called the reception class. Then the classes are called Year 1 through to Year 6.

When you first arrive in the UK, the council’s priority is to help find a school place for your child as soon as possible so it does not miss out on education. If the closest school to you is full, your child will need to go to one further away. If you talk to the council, you may be able to arrange for your child to change schools later if a place at a closer school becomes available.

Schools will provide the text books your child will need. You will not need to buy them for your child.

Children must wear school uniform. This will be different for each school. You can buy them new or used in various shops. Your child’s school and some charities might offer free uniform. Again, check with your school. And let them know if you have difficulty, as schools will raise concerns about possible neglect if a child does not come to school with a clean and neat uniform. 

Children are entitled to free school meals if their parents receive Section 95 Home Office asylum support. If you are on Section 4 support, you will need to check with the school or council as it will be at their discretion. School menus can be adapted by the school for both medical and religious needs, such as halal.

Your children may be eligible for free transport to school. If they have a mobility problem or a special educational need, they will qualify for free transport from 5 upwards. Other children aged between 5 and 16 qualify if they go to their nearest suitable school and live at least 2 miles from it if they are under 8, and 3 miles if they are 8 or older. Councils may also support travel costs to 6th form college If your child is over 16. You should contact them for full details.


Parent helping kids with homeworkChildren under 16 can get reduced fares on buses and trains if you buy them an Under-16 travel card. You will need evidence of your child’s age and a photo. Children must always travel with their card, as they must be able to show it if asked.

Schools will set homework for children. They will expect parents to support their children to complete it on time. It is advisable to check your child’s school bag, as teachers often ask children to take home letters and information for their parents, and a child may forget to mention it. You can also check details of their homework tasks.

It will be difficult for parents with limited English to help their children, so you can ask the school if they run a homework club, or if there is a local community group offering homework support. Some parents may want to improve their own literacy and numeracy skills to help their children with their homework. You may qualify for free adult education courses run at local colleges, including in English language. 

SATs (Standard Assessment Tests) are taken when a child is 7 and again at 11 when they are in the final year of primary school. They are important for the child’s future as many secondary schools use the results to assess a child’s ability and place them in sets for subjects, and even to predict performance right through school. 

There are some days when children can dress up in a costume to go to school. One example is National Book Day, when children dress up as a character in their favourite book. Again, check the school’s newsletter and website for details so your child does not miss the chance to join in. 

Children with special educational needs (SEN) will be assessed and will receive support. You can ask to speak to your school’s Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator if you feel your child needs support. Schools will also organise additional support for children who do not speak English. This is known as English as an Additional Language support or ‘EAL’.

Some councils have a team who support ethnic minority achievement. They include teachers, teaching assistants, educational welfare officers, and family support workers. They work with schools and families to support pupils who speak English as an additional language, to help them achieve their potential.


Children are entitled to free school meals if their parents receive Section 95 Home Office asylum support

Attendance at school

Parents are legally required to ensure their children attend school from the age of 5. It is not a choice!

All schools monitor attendance every day. Missing school means a child can fall behind on their learning. Parents should aim for 100% attendance for their child. Parents cannot keep children at home unless there is a valid reason and they have informed the school. If a child misses school without a valid reason, the school records it as an unauthorised absence. If a child is absent regularly, the school can make a home visit to check on the child. A school can offer parents advice and support if they are struggling to make sure their child attends school regularly. Ultimately local councils can use legal powers, including imposing fines and court orders on parents, to make parents improve attendance.

So it is really important for parents to communicate with the school. Parents must telephone the school by 8:30 in the morning, if their child:

  • is ill and cannot attend school that day
  • will get to school late, and explain why
  • cannot attend school that day for any other valid reason 
  • has been hurt, for example whilst playing, and has a bruise or injury – parents need to explain what happened

You should try and learn the English words you will need to use to report your child’s absence so you can leave a message on the school answerphone.

Every school has set holidays and parents should not take children away outside of these. You will need to ask the school’s permission for any other absence. Granting absence is at their discretion. Please talk to your school in advance about faith holidays such as Eid, Diwali, or Nawroz. You should also try to book any appointments for your child after school hours, for example with a doctor.

Schools also expect parents to get involved with the school. It is important to build a relationship with the school as it will help you support your child’s progress. So parents should attend parents’ evenings, where you can discuss your child’s progress with teachers, ask any questions, and discuss any concerns you have. You can meet other parents too. It is also valuable to talk to teachers when you are dropping off or collecting your child. 


Which of the following statements are true?

(Tick all that apply)

Role of schools in protecting children from harm ('safeguarding')

Under UK law, schools have a duty to ensure children are safe from physical or emotional harm. It is useful for parents to know how schools deliver their protection responsibilities.

Schools will monitor for possible signs of neglect or abuse. For example, if a child:

  • is dirty, hungry, or too tired to focus in class and participate in school life
  • displays any behaviour of concern, like being upset, aggressive, or withdrawn, or not participating in school activity
  • has any injuries or signs of physical abuse
  • does not have a safe journey to and from school 

All staff are obliged to record any concerns about a child’s safety and wellbeing on a central computer system, which is checked to identify any multiple or recurring issues with a child.

If a child’s record shows it has, on several occasions, come to school unclean or hungry, the school will contact the parents to try to find out what’s happening. If the parents are struggling, the school can offer help from an Early Help team, who will create a support plan for that family. But if the parents do not communicate with the school or do not take up the support offer, the school will refer their concerns to a social worker, who will contact the parents and develop a plan of action to improve the care of the child.  

Some issues will trigger an automatic referral from the school to a social worker. These are concerns about child abuse. For example, if a child says “My mother hit me”, the school will make an immediate referral and a social worker will contact the parents to investigate.

Whatever the concern, intervention will always escalate if parents do not engage in discussions, or accept offers of support, or change the way they do things. Ultimately it could involve the child being taken into the care of the local council. 

Schools must inform parents if a child has had an incidence or injury while at school and explain what happened. And schools must take action to protect a child if they know it is being physically or verbally abused by another child whilst at school. 

Each school has a policy on the age they consider it is safe for a child to get to and from school without adult supervision. It can depend on the location of the school, for example if there are major roads to cross which will expose children to greater risk of harm.  Always check what your school’s policy is. Children aged 6 to 12 are usually considered too young to get to and from school on their own and parents are expected to accompany these young children to school, to drop them off and pick them up. it is also important to be on time when collecting your child as teachers will need to wait until all children are collected. 

Schools will not allow a child to be collected by a stranger. Parents must contact the school if they need to arrange for someone else to collect them that day. At the start of the school year, most schools ask parents to nominate 2 other people who can collect their child, and who to contact in an emergency.

Schools will be concerned if there are signs the child is not getting enough sleep. Tiredness can harm a child by affecting its ability to grow, learn and play. It is recommended that children at nursery school get 11 to 12 hours sleep each night. Primary school children should get between 9.5 and 11 hours sleep a night, and secondary school children get between 9 and 9.5 hours.

Education from 11 to 16: secondary school

After primary school, children go on to secondary school.

Children start Secondary School in the school year they turn 11. It starts with Year 7 and finishes with Year 11, when they turn 16.

School places are not automatically allocated. You can apply for a place at a state school online or by using your council’s application form. You apply through your local council even if you are applying for schools in another council area. Councils cannot guarantee your child a place at the school you apply to, even if you live in the catchment area or have another child already at the school, as this will depend upon the number of applications the school receives. Ask your local ethnic minority achievement team for more information and help on the application process, and about how decisions are made. You can appeal against a decision if you do not think it is fair.

When a child is in Year 9 – when they are 13 or 14 – they need to make important decisions about what subjects to study for national General Certificate of Education exams, known as GCSEs. The GCSE exams are at the end of Year 11, when the child is 15 or 16. There is some choice around subjects selected. Three core subjects, English, maths, and science, are compulsory. Other subjects are optional and can be chosen from 4 categories which are the arts, design and technology, the humanities and modern foreign languages. Optional subjects vary between schools.

Each school determines the number of GCSE subjects its pupils can take, which could be between 7 and 12 subjects. The subjects chosen will have a real significance for the child’s future so parents can support their child to pick subjects needed for the career they would like to follow, as well as ones that interest them and ones they are good at. GSCEs are awarded through a mixture of assessing course work and taking exams. Results are sent out in August, a couple of months after the exams. Grades awarded range from 9 (highest) to 1 (lowest).

Grades will determine which sixth form college the child can apply to and which subjects they can select to study for Advanced Level, which are known as A-levels. Each college will set what they require for entry, usually at least 5 GCSEs at grade 4 or above. And they usually require GCSE grade 6 or 7 in a subject to continue it at A-level. Check college websites for details. 

GCSE results dayGSCE grades are also used by universities and further education colleges as an indication of the student’s abilities. Universities often require a minimum of GCSE grade 4 in English, maths, and at least one science for acceptance on a degree course. Many further education college courses require a minimum of 5 GCSEs at grade 4 or above. 

Homework will increase at secondary school and parents are expected to make sure children complete it on time. Expect your child to be given between 1 and 2 hours each day to start with, rising to between 2 and 3 hours a day in when they are 14 to 16. Homework is particularly important when children start studying for GCSEs to make sure they have covered the syllabus in enough depth and to revise before the exams. Check the school’s website for details of their homework policy and resources that can help parents support children to manage their homework and ensure its completed on time. If a child persistently fails to hand in their homework, a school will usually ask parents to come in and discuss the problem.

Many schools have an after-school homework club where children do their homework, with teachers or support staff there to help. These clubs can be useful if your child needs to use school resources to do assignments, such as the library or the internet, or if it is difficult to focus at home.  


The three core subjects that are compulsory for children to study at GCSE are:

(Tick all that apply)

Education and training over 16 and up to 18

After 16, children must do one of the following until they are 18:

They must either stay in full-time education, for example at a 6th form college, and study for A-levels or other skills-based qualifications such as National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) 

Or they can start an apprenticeship or traineeship in a vocational skill. These combine practical training with study. Apprenticeships last between 1 and 5 years with the young person earning an income whilst studying. A traineeship can last up to 6 months. It is a course with work experience that gets a person ready for work or for an apprenticeship. 

Or they can spend 20 hours or more a week working or volunteering, while in part-time education or training

Most students aiming to study for a degree at university take 3 A-Levels, which is the minimum universities require to offer a place. A few students take the maximum of five A-Levels. But each A-Level involves a lot of study, and a lot of homework, so more than 3 could cause grades or extracurricular commitments to slide.  

A-Level courses take 2 years, covering Years 12 and 13. Exams are the end of Year 13, in May and June, with results notified in August. Grades are awarded on an A* to E scale, with A* being the highest. Grade C is considered a pass.

People with fewer than 3 A-Levels can still go on to study for Foundation Degrees or other higher level courses. 

Schools support children to make choices about their future. Every secondary school must offer independent careers guidance for all Year 8 to 13 pupils. You can ask for advice on the choices and options when your child is selecting which subjects to study, and whether to aim for academic or skills based courses.  

By law a child must be in some form of education or training from 16 up to the age of 18. But a child who has turned 16 is considered to be old enough to make decisions for themselves. So while a parent should be encouraging their child to continue their education or training, the parent cannot be held responsible if the child refuses.

Education after 18

UniversityIf your child wants to study for a degree at university, you will need to consider the fees involved, which are around £9,000 a year. Most courses take 3 years. And if living away from home, there will be living costs too. Asylum seekers are not eligible to apply for the student loans which cover fees and living costs. However, some universities offer sanctuary scholarships which allow asylum seekers to study at university for free. Check university websites or google ‘sanctuary scholarships’. Some of the 5 universities in the north east offer sanctuary scholarships too. 

Most students apply to university before they take their A-Levels, so they can start in the September after they leave sixth form. Your child can apply to university through their sixth form or online through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).

You should ask for advice about your child’s eligibility for a student loan if you receive ‘leave to remain’ from the Home Office, or if your child turns 18. 

Or your child may want to go to a further education college, which offer a range of courses and vocational study as well as apprenticeships and training. Check with the college which courses your child could be eligible to study for free. 

If your child cannot secure a free university or college place, they are likely to be very frustrated they cannot progress their studies when other friends can. And they will not be allowed to work if you are still waiting for a decision on your asylum claim. They will need something meaningful to do. You can help them consider volunteering opportunities. Volunteering impresses future employers, and it can provide young people with valuable personal references. This can keep them positive about the future. Find out about opportunities at the local volunteering office.  


When studying for a degree at university asylum seekers are eligible to apply for student loans to cover fees and living costs

Protecting your child from bullying, hate, cyber abuse

Child upsetIf a child targets another child with the intention of hurting them, either physically or emotionally, it is known as ‘bullying’ and is very damaging to a child. Parents should try and encourage their child to talk to them and share any concerns they have about school, otherwise they may be suffering in silence. Parents can find it very stressful and confusing wondering what they can do to stop the bullying and protect their child. Sometimes a child does not want anyone to make a fuss about it, or they do not want any action to be taken against the other child as they worry they will be picked on even more. It is important for parents to know they can take action to stop it happening again, which can start off as small informal steps but can escalate to more action if you are not satisfied the bullying has stopped. 

Firstly, speak to your child’s class teacher and explain your worries. You should not try to deal with it yourself by talking to the other child or their parents. You can ask the teacher to keep an eye on the situation, and for their suggestions for the best way of resolving things. All schools must have a behaviour policy, which will say how they will manage behaviour of children at school. If bullying continues, try to keep a diary of what your child says is happening, including dates, times and details of incidents together with any witnesses. Ask for a follow up meeting with the class teacher or head of year. Schools have a duty of care to their students, and allowing a child to be continually bullied when the school has been alerted to the problem could be seen as a breach of that duty. Finally, you can make a complaint against the school if you feel they have not responded appropriately to the information you have given to them. 

Your child may be so stressed and frightened by bullying that they cannot face going to school. Unless you talk to the school about what is happening, they will treat this as unauthorised absence and they could take action against the parent for failing to ensure the child attends school. You can also explain things to your local ethnic minority achievement team and ask them to intervene with the school to get the bullying stopped.

Some forms of bullying are illegal. This includes violence or assault, theft, repeated harassment or intimidation, and hate crimes. Hate is where the child is targeted because of their religion or race. This will not be tolerated. The preferred advice is for parents to report this to the police and let them take action. 

Children go online at a young age and are quick to learn to explore the web. They can be at risk from cyber bullying and abuse, and from accessing inappropriate and harmful material via their smartphones or other digital devices. This is a real worry for all parents. It can have a serious impact on a child’s confidence, self-esteem and health. 

Again, it is important parents talk to their children about these dangers, and the risks of the websites and apps they are using. Encourage them to talk to you about anything which has happened to them or any concerns they have. 

Parents can get advice on how to protect their children from online harm, such as using parental control tools and filters, and know how to report cyber bullying and abuse. There are organisations that provide practical tips as well as helping you report incidents so that action can be taken to stop it happening again.


If your child suffers bullying at school, you should:

Helping your child stay inside the law

In any country, some children will behave in a way which is disruptive to others in society and authorities will have different ways of responding. Children may do things that harm or lack consideration for others. Examples are being noisy or intimidating in a public space, spraying graffiti, verbally abusing others, and deliberately damaging property. In the UK this is known as ‘anti-social behaviour’ or ‘ASB’. Police will take action against young people found committing ASB and punishments will increase if they do not follow the rules.

Your child is not allowed to buy alcohol before they are 18. It is also illegal for anyone else to sell alcohol to or buy alcohol for someone under 18. The minimum legal age for smoking is 16. But a child is not allowed to buy cigarettes until they are 18. So shops selling alcohol and cigarettes can ask anyone who looks under the age of 25 to show identity to prove their age.


Anyone caught using, possessing or selling illegal drugs can be arrested. Parents should warn their children about the dangers of being asked to carry or deliver any package for someone else. Some drug dealers deliberately target children to deliver their drugs, thinking they are less likely to attract police attention. They offer children free drugs first, then demand they deliver drugs for them and threaten them with injury if they refuse. The police can help parents understand more about this and give advice on how to protect your child if you are concerned about them.

It is illegal for a boy or a girl to have sex with anyone under the age of 16, even if they are willing. It is important not to assume a person is over 16 just because they are somewhere like a pub or a club. Sex with someone over the age of 16 must always be with their consent. Sexual activity without consent is rape or sexual assault, which is a crime. The penalty can be a prison sentence of up to 15 years.

In England, the minimum legal age someone can get married is 16. They must however have their parents’ consent. Marriage is allowed at 18 without parental consent.


Children are not allowed to buy alcohol or cigarettes until they are 18

Managing expectations: 'sleepovers'

A sleepover is a party where one or more friends are invited to stay the night at a friend’s house. It could be to celebrate birthdays or other special events. Sleepover parties have become popular in the UK, especially with girls. Most children now consider them a normal part of childhood.

So it is best to be prepared how you will respond if your child has a sleepover invitation, or asks you to organise one for their friends. Of course parents will make their own decision whether to allow a sleepover or not. Understandably, many parents will be anxious about their child staying with people they do not know well, and if they will be safe and supervised. So if you do not want your child to join a sleepover, it could be a good idea to think of alternative activities you can arrange for your child to support their friendships with other children. For example, you can organise a daytime play date for them. 

If you do allow a sleepover, you can make sure you have the address and telephone number of the parents hosting it. And you can let them know about any food or medical needs your child has. If you are hosting a sleepover, remember children should not be watching television shown after 8 in the evening on cable and Sky channels, or 9 on channels 1 to 5, as this is when more adult programmes are shown.

Some schools may organise a sleepover at the school. They will provide the ‘sleeping bags’ and teachers will be there all night, so children will be supervised at all times. 

Children are also keen to have the latest fashionable things, such as the coolest smart phone or trainers. These items are very expensive and impossible to buy when you are getting asylum support and not allowed to work to earn the money to pay for them. Children are likely to be very frustrated if they are told they cannot have the things their school friends have. So it could be a good idea for you to talk to your child and explain to them the family’s financial situation while you are waiting for your asylum claim to be decided. This will help them to manage their expectations, so they do not think their parents are deliberately denying them things. 

Supervising children at home to keep them safe from harm

Unsupervised childAn unsupervised child is at risk of harm because they may not know how to avoid danger, or who to trust. If a parent fails to supervise a child so that it places them at risk of harm, they will be considered negligent.  

The UK has national guidelines on how much parental supervision is needed. These may differ to what you are used to.

  1. Babies and very young children should never be left alone, even for 15 minutes while you quickly go to the local shop.
  2. Children under 12 are rarely mature enough to be left alone, or to look after younger children, or cook for themselves without adult supervision. 
  3. Children under 16 should not be left alone overnight. 
  4. Children over 16 should not be left alone frequently for long periods of time or for multiple nights.

So parents need to think carefully about leaving children unsupervised – whether alone at home, or in a car, or letting children play outside without an adult watching them, or letting children go somewhere on their own, such as to the park, the school or a friend. 

The law does not specify an age when you can leave a child on their own, because children mature at a different rate. But it is an offence to leave a child alone if it places them at risk. Councils have a duty to investigate if they receive reports of unsupervised children. A social worker could visit you to find out what is happening and discuss things you may need to do to make sure the child is not placed at risk. Police can prosecute parents if they feel their actions put children at risk. 

Use your judgement on how mature your child is before you decide to leave them alone anywhere. Just because a child is older it does not necessarily mean they are ready to look after themselves or other children. Ask yourself, will your child know what to do in an emergency, or be able to cope if something unexpected or scary happens? Parents should also assess the safety of the location, and eliminate risks before leaving them alone or with other younger children. Ask are there any obvious risks, such as a sharp knife left out, or an open window a child could fall out of, or broken glass where the children are playing? The child should always be able to contact you or a trusted person, and you should be able to return home quickly if they need you.


UK law does not specify an age when you can leave children on their own, however there are national guidelines on how much parental supervision is needed


Babies and very young children should never be left alone, even for 15 minutes while you quickly go to the local shop


Children under 12 are rarely mature enough to be left alone, or to look after younger children, or cook for themselves without adult supervision


Children under 16 can be left alone overnight


Children over 16 should not be left alone frequently for long periods of time or for multiple nights

Supervising children outside the home

Parent and childYoung children should also be supervised by an adult if they are playing outside. An adult will need to go with them to a park and in any local areas where they have to cross roads. Children need to be encouraged to learn how to use appropriate crossing zones, such as a zebra crossing, or waiting at lights for the ‘green man’. 

All this may contrast with what is acceptable back in your country, where children may be given responsibility at an earlier age. But it is very important to understand the different approach in the UK. 

The law about children and cars

Child and baby in carYou should also never leave your child alone in the car, even for 5 minutes.

To protect children’s health, it is illegal to smoke in a car if there is anyone under 18 in it. And it is illegal to fail to prevent smoking in a car if there is someone under 18 in it.  The law still applies if the windows or a sunroof is open, or if you have the air conditioning on and even if you are sitting in the open doorway of the car. The rules do not apply to e-cigarettes (vapes).

For the same reason, smoking is not allowed in school grounds.

In UK law, when travelling in a car, children must use a child seat that is appropriate to their age, height and weight. The law says:

  1. A child must be in a rear-facing baby carrier or baby seat, with harness restraints, until it is 15 months old. 
  2. After 15 months, children can use a forward-facing child car seat with harness restraints. They must use this until they are 12 years old or 135 centimetres tall, whichever comes first.
  3. Children over 12 or more than 135cm tall must wear a seat belt.

Exceptions are only made if a child is travelling in a taxi and the driver does not provide a correct child seat, or if you are having to make an emergency or unexpected journey over a short distance.


Children must travel in a child car seat until they are

The law around disciplining children

The UK law on protecting children from harm also affects how parents can discipline their children. Many problems arise if the council learns that physical punishment is being used to discipline a child. 

In many countries it is considered acceptable to use physical punishment, such as smacking, to discipline a child. It used to be the same in the UK. But attitudes, as in many countries around the world, have been changing and it is now considered to be abuse. It is very important for parents new to the UK to understand what the consequences can be if you do continue to use physical punishment or even the threat of using it. Again, front line professionals such as health workers, social workers, teachers, and the police have a duty to act if they have information a child may be at risk of abuse in the home.

For many parents, smacking a child may feel like the fastest and most effective way to change a child’s behaviour. It may work in the short-term. But, studies show using physical punishment on children has long-term consequences and links to psychological problems in adulthood. Hitting children for misbehavior can reinforce the idea that violence is the way to resolve a problem or get someone to do what you want. 

The simplest message is, do not use any physical punishment to discipline your child. And do not threaten your child with physical punishment either. If you do, you could end up having your child taken away from you. This is extremely likely if you use any kind of implement to smack your child with, such as a belt or a spoon or if you threaten to use something, for example if you tell your child “If you do that again I will smack you with this spoon”.

Physical punishment means:

  • smacking, slapping, hitting with a hand or an implement  
  • kicking, shaking or throwing
  • scratching, pinching, biting
  • pulling hair or ears
  • forcing children to stay in uncomfortable positions, such as standing for long periods
  • burning, scalding
  • forcing a child to eat something

No form of punishment should ever leave a child with swelling, bruises, cuts or grazes, reddening of the skin, abrasions, or scratches

Parent threatening child with beltAnyone can report incidents of child abuse to the council, whether they have witnessed it or heard about it. Many local services are required by law to report any knowledge of physical punishment of children or other abuse. Reports will lead to a visit from a social worker or the police, who will investigate. If they consider the child is at continuing risk of harm, they have the power to remove that child into the care of the local council. 

So if a social worker visits you, it is vital you listen to the concerns they raise and are willing to discuss the situation with them. If you keep silent they cannot do their job, which is to satisfy themselves that a child is safe from harm. If you do not co-operate with them, they cannot investigate, which means they are more likely to have to remove the child into the council’s care. So it is advisable to build a relationship with the social worker and recognise you share a mutual concern in your child’s wellbeing. It is best to work with them to uncover any issues that may be putting the child’s safety at risk and then be willing to find remedies for these. If you are willing to work with them, a social worker can support you to adjust to life in the UK. They can support you with the parenting challenges you face.

Parenting can be more challenging when a whole family is experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety whilst adjusting to a new life and waiting for a decision on their asylum claim. And family members are likely to be dealing with trauma from things they experienced back home. All this can lead to heightened tensions at home, and parents may be quicker to react to things, and with more anger, than usual. Research also shows trauma significantly affects a child’s behaviour. For example, teenagers can find it harder to manage their anger. All this can make managing a child’s behaviour additionally challenging for parents.


When disciplining their child, parents should never

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If a social worker comes to visit you, you should

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Alternative methods for managing a child's behaviour

If you used physical punishment to discipline your child back home, you will need to find alternative methods to manage your child’s behaviour now you are in the UK.  

There is local support available for parents to help them do this. You can get this support from your local council’s Early Help team. They run workshops on alternative methods and they can also come to your home to help you use these methods if your child has particularly difficult and challenging behaviour. You can ask to be referred to them or you can approach them yourself. They are there for both mothers and fathers. 

The Early Help team can help address difficulties with:

  • children’s behaviour
  • family relationships
  • parenting
  • managing a low income
  • home conditions
  • getting support from the right professionals.

Social workers and Early Help teams will be able to explain these alternative methods and help you practice them. These approaches use discipline that is aimed at learning, rather than punishing. 

These methods include: 

  1. Place your child in what is called ‘time-out’. This teaches children how to calm themselves down, which is a useful life skill.
  2. Take away privileges, such as a favourite toy or a fun activity for the day. Make it clear when the privileges can be earned back. They will be reminded not to repeat that mistake.
  3. Ignore mild misbehaviour. Selective ignoring can actually be more effective than smacking. If the child is misbehaviour is aimed at gaining your attention, do not give it to them. As long as the child is not in danger, look the other way, pretend you cannot hear them, and do not respond. Then, when they ask nicely or they start to behave, return your attention to them. Over time, they will learn that polite and positive behaviour is the best way to get their needs met.
  4. Provide logical consequences. For example, if your child does not eat their dinner, do not let them have a bedtime snack. Or if your child refuses to pick up their toys, do not allow them to play with them for the rest of the day. Linking the consequence directly to the behaviour problem helps children see that their choices have direct consequences.
  5. Allow for natural consequences. Natural consequences allow children to learn from their own mistakes. For example, if your child says they are not going to wear a coat, let them go outside and get cold (as long as it is safe to do so). Use natural consequences when you think your child will learn from his own mistake. 
  6. Reward good behaviour. Instead of smacking a child for misbehaviour, reward them for good behaviour. For example, if your child fights with their brother or sister, set up a reward system to motivate them to get along better. Providing an incentive to behave can turn around misbehaviour fast. Rewards help children to focus on what they need to do to earn privileges, rather than emphasize the bad behaviour they are supposed to avoid.
  7. Praise good behaviour. For example, when your child is playing nicely with others, point it out. Say, “You are doing such a good job sharing and taking turns today.” When there are several children in the room, give the most attention and praise to the children who are following the rules and behaving well. Then, when the other child begins to behave, give them praise and attention as well.

The local council's Early Help Team can provide support to parents to address difficulties with

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Relations between parents at home

Parents arguingEvidence shows that abusive or violent behaviour between a husband and wife can harm a child, even if the child is not the actual target of that abuse. 

So parents also need to understand the UK law on domestic abuse, which means abuse that goes on between partners in the home. It can involve:

  • physical abuse, such as hitting a partner, or being violent
  • verbal abuse, such as shouting and screaming at someone
  • sexual abuse
  • psychological or emotional abuse
  • threats and intimidation 
  • controlling and coercive behaviour designed to contain and limit a partner

There are consequences for family unity if councils learn domestic abuse is happening. Again the police or a social worker will need to come to the house and investigate. If a child lives in that house, they will need to consider the emotional impact on that child and whether it is safe for the child to remain in the house. It can lead to a child being taken into care, or they may decide the abusive partner needs to leave the house in order for the child to stay.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has evidence which shows the impact domestic abuse has on children who witness it or hear it.

Younger children may become anxious. They may complain of stomach-aches or start to wet their bed. They may find it difficult to sleep, have temper tantrums, and start to behave as if they are much younger than they are.

Older children react differently. Boys seem to express their distress much more outwardly, for example by becoming aggressive and disobedient. Sometimes, they start to use violence to try and solve problems, and may copy the behaviour they see within the family. Older boys may deliberately miss school and start to use alcohol or drugs, which are common way of trying to block out disturbing experiences and memories.

Girls are more likely to keep their distress inside. They may become withdrawn from other people, and become anxious or depressed. They may think badly of themselves and complain of vague physical symptoms. They are more likely to have an eating disorder, or to harm themselves by taking overdoses or cutting themselves. They are also more likely to choose an abusive partner when they are adults.

Children of any age can develop symptoms of what is called ‘post-traumatic stress disorder’ (PTSD). They may get nightmares, flashbacks, become very jumpy, and have headaches and physical pains. Children dealing with domestic violence and abuse often do badly at school. Their frightening experiences at home make it difficult to concentrate in school, and they may refuse to go to school if they are worried about leaving their abused parent alone.

Remember again that a couple who have lost all they had back home, and experiencing stress and anxiety while waiting for their asylum decision, could find that tensions at home increase and tempers escalate more quickly than before. Especially if they are in the house 24/7. So it can help to get involved in local social networks and local activities that take you out of the house and prevent tensions boiling over. It can help you manage stress in your life. You can find information about these in the local information pack provided by your housing provider, and on this website. 

Anyone suffering domestic abuse can get help by calling Migrant Help on 0808 8010 503.

You can also get help from specialist domestic abuse services set up to support victims. You can find details of these services online.

You can protect your child by taking action to stop domestic abuse continuing. 

The law on female genital mutilation or female circumcision

Female genital mutilation is against the law in the UK. It is also referred to as ‘FGM’ or female circumcision.

When a girl under the age of 16 is subjected to FGM, it is considered to be a form of child abuse, causing long lasting physical and psychological harm. 

Arranging, performing, helping or encouraging FGM in any way is a criminal offence. Penalties can include being put in prison for up to 14 years, and children being taken into care. It is also a criminal offence to take a child out of the UK to have FGM carried out.

Some refugees have campaigned against FGM in their home countries and continue to do so here.  Anyone who is worried their child may be at risk of FGM can take action to protect them. There are local and national organisations which will help you protect your child, and which help parents understand the harm FGM does to girls. The NHS and specialist agencies provide healthcare and support for women and girls who have already had FGM. 

The child's voice

Child's voiceIf the council gets involved in child protection, they will expect to speak to the child as well as the parents. Professionals, like social workers and the police, will talk to the child and listen to them. Hearing the child’s voice is considered an essential part of safeguarding. Professionals will want to find out what the child wants to happen, as the child has the right to be heard in any safeguarding decisions made about their own future. 

Of course in general life, children cannot just expect to do whatever they want, or things that are not allowed. But it is considered that good parenting involves good communication between parents and their children. Listening to the child, to understand what it is concerned about, or what it wants to achieve in life, can help a parent guide a child towards that or give them opportunities to consider the longer term rather than their immediate future.  

Parents' rights

Signing documentIf you become involved in a child protection case, you should be clear about your rights and entitlements as a parent – both mothers and fathers. 

You have the right to ask for an interpreter to make sure you can understand the information the social worker is giving you, including any documents. And so you can communicate your own feelings and explanation fully. You should not feel pressured to sign any document unless you are clear what it is saying and what the consequences are if you do sign it. 

The social worker should inform you of your rights to legal representation, and how to access this. You can also find out about these at your local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) and you can contact a local solicitor that practices family law.

A solicitor is important because they will listen to what you say and help explain your point of view to your local council. The law about when a child can be taken into care is very complicated. Your solicitor can explain it to you and make sure your local council is following the law. 

People receiving Home Office asylum support may be able to access this legal representation for free, through the Legal Aid scheme.


If parents become involved in a child protection case they are entitled to

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