Becoming a parent is a huge step in anyone’s life. You now have a young person who is totally dependent on you for the basics of life, everything from food and shelter to medical attention and even the not so basic requirements, like schooling and entertainment. In the UK, parental responsibility is actually defined in the law, within the Children Act of 1989, which states that parental responsibility lasts until the child is aged 18, until marriage if that occurs between the ages 16 and 18 or until an adoption order is made. Parental responsibility includes many things, but some of the most important are the following.
Ensuring the welfare of your child or children
While this can encompass many things, typical examples include ensuring your child or children are adequately fed and clothed, that they have a reasonably warm and safe environment in which to live and that, when old enough, they obtain an education. It can also include caring for your child when sick and vaccinating your youngster against illness, assuming it is not against your religious beliefs. In short, parents are responsible for providing an environment in which the child can grow and thrive without being exposed to an undue level of danger or injury.
Providing for current and future needs
Children typically live in the here and now, without much thought to the future. That is part of growing up and learning about who they are, so that they are prepared to make their own way in the world as they reach adulthood. Parents, then, are the ones who have to consider what that future may look like and what may be required to get the child safely there. Although the law does not spell it out, making a will should be high on any new parent’s ‘to do’ list. Without a will, should you die before they reach adulthood, your wishes do not need to be considered regarding who the child or children live with, where they go to school or any religious upbringing. One of the greatest gifts a parent can give a child is to stretch that safety net out into the future.
Keeping the child or children safe from harm
Of course, infants are totally dependent on their parents where safety and security are concerned, but even as they get older this can include holding hands while crossing the street, teaching them to be wary of strangers and having those difficult talks about alcohol, drugs and sex. Navigating peer pressure or even bullying and being an advocate for your child also fall into this category.
Making decisions about a child’s property
Not all children have property, of course, but for those who work as youngsters, perhaps as child models or actors or who are willed property, such assets need to be protected. This will often involve interaction with the courts on the child’s behalf.
Representing the child in legal or administrative proceedings
As mentioned previously, there are instances when the best way to protect a child’s interests is for one or both parents to go to court, often with the assistance of a solicitor. While this can be a stressful time for both adult and child, it is sometimes the only way to ensure that the best interests of the child are protected and enforced.