Child arrangements orders

Information on child arrangements orders for kinship carers, including how you get one, how they work and available support.

A child arrangements order (CAO), is a legal order made by the family court that states:

  • where a child will live
  • who a child can spend time with and for how long

For example, a CAO can state when a child will spend part of the week living with or having contact with a parent or other family member.

CAOs replaced residence orders in 2014, though you may still see and hear information and advice that uses that term.

Parental responsibility

You share parental responsibility with the child’s parents until they are 18 years old, unless the family court states otherwise.

You will make most everyday decisions for the child, such as whether they go on school trips or need medical treatment. But you will need to get consent from the child’s parents or anyone else with parental responsibility to make major decisions about their care.

What is parental responsibility? (GOV.UK)

Who can apply for a CAO

You can apply for a CAO if you are:

  • the child’s grandparent, aunt, uncle, brother or sister (including by marriage or civil partnership), half-brother or half-sister, or stepparent, and they have lived with you for more than a year
  • the child’s appointed guardian following the death of a parent or special guardian
  • a family and friends foster carer and the child has lived with you for more than a year, or you have consent from anyone who has parental responsibility
  • a private foster carer and the child has lived with you for at least three of the last five years

You can also apply for CAO if you have consent from:

  • everyone else who holds parental responsibility
  • the children’s services, if the child is in their care
  • anyone who already has a residence order or CAO for the child

If none of the above applies to you, you can still apply to the family court for ‘permission to apply’ for a CAO.

Applying for a CAO

It’s important that you get as much legal advice as possible and understand all your options before applying for a CAO.

Before making any decisions, you will likely need to attend a mediation, information and assessment meeting (MIAM). Speaking to a mediator might help everyone agree on the child’s care arrangements before you apply for a child arrangements order.

When deciding whether to grant a child arrangements order, the family court will always prioritise the child’s welfare. It will usually ask the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Services (Cafcass) or children’s services to complete a welfare report.

You can apply for a CAO order online or get help from a solicitor. You may be able to get legal advice and support.

Financial support

In most cases, the child’s parents must provide financial support, though we often find that they are unable or do not want to.

If the child’s parents are in work, you can ask them to provide support on an informal basis. If they refuse, you can ask the Child Maintenance Service (GOV.UK) to get involved, though you will usually have to pay a fee.

You may also be able to get a CAO allowance through your local council’s children’s services department. You are more likely to get an allowance if the child was looked after by children’s service before the CAO was made. Children’s services will assess your financial situation, decide what support you should get and review it every year.

If children’s services decide the child is ‘in need’, they may offer family support services under Section 17 of the Children’s Act 1989, which can include financial help.

You can ask children’s services for their family and friends care policy, which will explain how you can apply for a CAO allowance and how they make a decision. The allowance is to help with the cost of caring for the child.

Learn more about financial support for child arrangement orders

Support from Kinship

Here at Kinship, we offer a range of free support for all kinship carers, including workshops, online advice and information, and peer support groups.

Contact our advice service to speak to an adviser or book an appointment.