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9.3.4 Parenting Contracts and Parenting Orders


  1. Introduction

  2. Description
  3. When to use a Contract
  4. Negotiating a Contract
  5. Breaches of Contract

  6. Description
  7. Evidence that the Child or Young Person has Engaged in Criminal Conduct or Anti-social Behaviour
  8. Evidence that making the Order would be Desirable in the Interests of Preventing further Criminal Conduct or Anti-social Behaviour
  9.  Application Form and Time Limits

  10. Description
  11. Conditions for making a Parenting Order
  12. Process
  13. Definition of Parent and Guardian
  14. Parental Attendance at Court
  15. Explaining the Order to the Parent
  16. Requirements of a Parenting Order
  17. Operation of the Order
  18. Variation/Discharge
  19. Breach Arrangement
  20. Appeals
  21. Legal Services

1. Introduction     

1.1 This document covers Parenting Contracts and Parenting Orders arising from criminal conduct and anti-social behaviour only.
1.2 For additional information see also ‘Parenting Contracts and Orders Guidance’ published by the Home Office/Youth Justice Board/Department for Constitutional Affairs, February 2004.


2. Description

2.1 Section 25 of the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 introduced Parenting Contracts. The section applies when a young person has been referred to a Youth Offending Team.

A Parenting Contract is a voluntary written agreement between the responsible officer from the Youth Offending Service and the parents or guardians of a child or young person. A contract will consist of two elements:

  1. A statement by the parents or guardians that they agree to comply for a specified period with requirements specified in the contract, for example attendance at a guidance or counselling programme; and
  2. A statement by the Youth Offending Service agreeing to provide support to the parents or guardians for the purpose of complying with the contract. 
2.3 The legislation does not specify the time limit for contracts so duration should be a matter of what is considered reasonable and effective.

3. When to use a Contract

3.1 The young person will have been assessed using the Asset tool and an additional parenting assessment will have been triggered. That assessment will have identified the need for additional parenting work. The parenting contract is used where a parent is reluctant to engage in a voluntary contact agreement or would benefit from a more formal arrangement.
3.2 A parenting contract may also be used where a young person has been referred to the Youth Offending Service having been identified as someone who is likely to engage in criminal conduct or anti-social behaviour, for example via the Anti-Social Behaviour Injunctions Panel.

4. Negotiating a Contract

4.1 Where a Parenting Contract is being considered the parenting officer will consult with other agencies working with the child or young person or carers to ensure that the proposed work complements, rather than conflicts with, any existing interventions. Written authorisation to obtain information from partnership agencies will be obtained by the supervising officer.
4.2 Where possible, both parents/carers should be involved in the contract negotiations and, subject to age, maturity and understanding, the young person as well.
4.3 The parents and, where appropriate, their child should be asked to outline their views on the misbehaviour, how they believe it should be tackled and what support they would find useful. This information will be used to inform the content of the Parenting Contract. The aim is to work in partnership to improve the behaviour of the child or young person.
4.4 All efforts to engage parents using a contract will be recorded on Careworks, as this will be a relevant factor if Parenting Orders are considered in the future.

In negotiating a contract the specific requirements included under Section 25(3)(a) of the Anti Social Behaviour Act 2003 should specifically address criminal conduct or anti-social behaviour. The contract should balance specific and general requirements. Examples include: 

To ensure their child stays away from a part of town where they have misbehaved, unless supervised

  • To ensure their child is effectively supervised at certain times;
  • To ensure their child avoids contact with certain disruptive individuals;
  • To ensure their child avoids contact with someone they have been harassing;
  • To ensure their child attends school regularly;
  • To ensure that they (the parents) attend all school meetings concerning their child;
  • To support the work being undertaken with their child by other agencies, such as the Youth Offending Service.
4.6 Contracts will usually require the parents to attend a parenting support or guidance programme, arranged by the Youth Offending Service and based on an assessment of the parents’ needs.
4.7 More than one parent or guardian may be included in a contract, as well as different contracts being negotiated with different parents.
4.8 A contract pro-forma is available. The contract will include what support the Youth Offending Service will offer parents for the purpose of complying with the requirements. It should be signed and a copy be given to all parties.
4.9 The parenting officer will deliver the contract and maintain contact with other interested parties such as the provider of the parenting programme or, where truancy is an issue, the school.

5. Breaches of Contract

5.1 There is no penalty for breaching a Parenting Contract but failure to comply would be a relevant consideration for the Youth Offending Service in deciding whether to apply for, and a relevant consideration for a court in deciding whether to make, a Parenting Order. Any breach of the contract must therefore be recorded and acted upon.
5.2 The responsible officer will contact the parents within one working day of any apparent breach of the contract to seek an explanation. If it is reasonable and overall the contract is still proving useful then the breach and reasons should all be recorded and the contract would continue as normal. If the explanation shows that the contract is proving difficult to comply with through no fault of the parents, the responsible officer should meet the parents to review and if appropriate amend the contract.
5.3 Where the responsible officer is not satisfied with the explanation they will serve the parents with a warning, which will be recorded. If there are further breaches the responsible officer will meet the parents or guardians to review the contract and how it can be made to work. The parents will be advised that if a contract fails the Youth Offending Service can apply for a free-standing Parenting Order and that a court would take account of how far the parents had complied with the contract. In light of this meeting the responsible officer should decide whether the breach is undermining the contract to the extent that they need to apply for a Parenting Order or whether to persevere with the contract. The responsible officer must record the decision and reasons. This can be used in any future application for a Parenting Order. 


6. Description

6.1 Section 26 of the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 allows the Youth Offending Service to apply for making a free standing Parenting Order, i.e. an order that is not linked to a conviction or order on the child.
6.2 The Youth Offending Service will normally only apply for a freestanding order after a parent has failed to cooperate in a parenting contract.

To make a free-standing Parenting Order a magistrates' court needs to be satisfied of two conditions:

  1. That the child or young person has engaged in criminal conduct or anti-social behaviour; and
  2. That making the order would be desirable in the interests of preventing further criminal conduct or anti-social behaviour. 
6.4 The first condition requires magistrates to make a finding about alleged criminal conduct or anti-social behaviour by the child or young person. The legislation does not specify a standard of proof for this, but courts might in practice insist on a criminal standard of proof. The second condition is a judgement so does not involve a specific standard of proof.
6.5 The process for making free-standing Parenting Orders is different from that for orders linked to a conviction or order on the child but the content and operation will be the same (see section on linked orders below)

7. Evidence that the Child or Young Person has Engaged in Criminal Conduct or Anti-social Behaviour

7.1 A child referred to the Youth Offending Service will generally have been involved in criminal conduct or anti-social behaviour and may have already received a police reprimand or final warning. If parents denied past involvement by their children the Youth Offending Service will need to present evidence and ensure any witnesses or agency workers involved are able to attend. Legal advice may need to be sought before an application if it is unclear whether there is sufficient evidence.
7.2 The supporting evidence could include witness statements of officers who attended incidents, witness statements of people affected by the behaviour, evidence of complaints recorded by the police, statements from professional witnesses, video or CCTV evidence, previous convictions, reprimands and final warnings, copies of custody records of previous arrests relevant to the application.

8. Evidence that making the Order would be Desirable in the Interests of Preventing further Criminal Conduct or Anti-social Behaviour

8.1 The Youth Offending Service assessment of the child or young person and their parents or guardians and details of its ability to provide the parenting programme should be presented in a report supporting the application. 
8.2 The Youth Offending Service will also provide evidence of any experience of trying to engage the parents through a Parenting Contract. Magistrates are obliged to take into account any refusal by a parent or guardian to enter into, or failure to comply with, a Parenting Contract. The Youth Offending Service needs to be clear what evidence there is of this. 

9. Application Form and Time Limits

9.1 The applications shall be by complaint.
9.2 Under Section 127 of the Magistrates’ Court Act 1980 a complaint must be made within six months of the criminal or anti-social behaviours concerned. If that is done a summons may be issued later but not so late as to cause unreasonable delay to the prejudice of the parents.


10. Description


A Parenting Order may be imposed in any court proceedings where:

  1. A Child Safety Order has been made;
  2. An Anti-Social Behaviour Injunction or Sex Offender Order has been made in respect of a child or young person;
  3. A child has been convicted of an offence;
  4. A Referral Order has been made or when a Youth Offender Panel refers a parent back to the court after failing to attend panel meetings.
10.2 Thus a Parenting Order can be made in the following courts
  • Family proceedings court;
  • A magistrate’s court acting under civil jurisdiction;
  • All criminal courts, i.e. youth, magistrates and Crown Court.

11. Conditions for making a Parenting Order

11.1 The Parenting Order is made under the court’s own motion, the consent of the parent or guardian is not required.

One of the following conditions must apply before the court can make a Parenting Order. They are that the order would be desirable in interests of preventing:

  1. A repetition of the kind of behaviour which led to a Child Safety Order, an Anti-Social Behaviour Injunction or a Sex Offender Order being made;
  2. The commission of further offences, where the child or young person has been convicted of an offence or issues with a Referral Order.
11.3 There is a presumption that a Parenting Order will be made where a young person under the age of 16 is convicted of an offence or an Anti-Social Behaviour Injunction and the above conditions apply. If not making the order the court must state why in open court. The only exception is that when a Referral Order is made, the court retains the discretion whether or not to make a Parenting Order.
11.4 When a Youth Offender Panel refers a parent back to court, the court will only be able to make a Parenting Order if it is proved to its satisfaction that the parent has failed without reasonable excuse to attend Panel meetings and that the order would be desirable in the interests of preventing the commission of further offences.

12. Process


A Parenting Order should only be actively proposed in proceedings, where

  • The parenting worker has undertaken a specialised assessment and identified a need for parenting input to avoid further offending or anti-social behaviour; and
  • Parents have not availed themselves to services offered within a voluntary agreement or Parenting Contract.

 This does not preclude however, the court’s right to impose an order in situations where the order is not being proposed by the Youth Offending Service.

12.2 Before making a Parenting Order where the child or young person is under the age of 16, the court must obtain and consider information about the parent’s or guardian’s family circumstances and the likely effect of the order on those circumstances. Where a young person is aged 16 or 17, the court may obtain such information but is not required to do so.
12.3 Where the young person is due to receive a court sentence (except Referral Orders) this information is most likely to be contained within the PSR (pre-sentence report). It is essential that the report author liaises closely with the parenting officer, particularly when the Asset has triggered a specialist assessment.
12.4 Parenting Orders will normally be made at the same time as a Referral Order if there is enough already known about the family circumstances to enable a suitable report to be written in the time before the hearing. This will usually be where the Youth Offending Service has already made attempts to engage with the parents, for example where the young person has received a final warning with intervention.
12.5 Where the parents are not known in this way the court will want to provide the opportunity for the Referral Panel to engage with parents on a voluntary basis or through a Parenting Contract. The Panel has the option of referring back to the court where the parents fail to comply.

Any non PSR report prepared for legal proceedings should explore the following when advising the court on the appropriateness of a Parenting Order;

  • The age of the young person;
  • The degree of support which already exists for the parent/carer, be it formal or informal;
  • The willingness of the parent to accept parenting support/advice/counselling on a voluntary basis;
  • The aims and objectives of the order and the programme of work to be developed to meet these;
  • Any additional requirements which should be included in the order, for what purpose and for how long.

13. Definition of Parent and Guardian

13.1 The term ‘parent’ refers to the child’s natural parents whether or not they were married at the time of the child’s birth. 
13.2 The term ‘guardian’ includes any person who, in the opinion of the court, has for the time being the care of the child/young person, this may include step-parents.
13.3 A parent or guardian should be involved in promoting that child/young person’s welfare and fulfilling their Parental Responsibility towards them. A Parenting Order may be made in respect of one or both parents or guardians
13.4 Parenting Orders may be used in circumstances where the young person is Looked After but it should be used with care and only after consultation with the local authority. It may be appropriate where a child is placed with his or her parents, or the aim of the Care Plan is for the child to be returned home at some point.

14. Parental Attendance at Court

a. In a criminal court or magistrates court acting under civil jurisdiction
14.1 Where a young person is charged with an offence or for any other reason brought before the court, the court may in any case and shall in the case of someone under the age of 16 require a parent/guardian to attend court during all stages of the proceedings unless the court is satisfied that it would be unreasonable to do so (Section 34A C&YPA 1933). The court can issue a summons to secure the attendance of parents or guardians
14.2 The same legislation applies to magistrates’ courts dealing with civil proceedings and thus all proceedings in relation to Parenting Orders where the child/young person is brought before the court and his/her actions act as the trigger for a Parenting Order.
14.3 Parents who fail to attend such hearings are subject to the existing rules of the respective court.
b. In a family proceedings court
14.4 In Child Safety Order applications the parent or guardian as party to the proceedings is required to attend them as appropriate.
c. In an adult Magistrates’ Court (where an application is made for a free standing order).
14.5 When the Youth Offending Service applies for a freestanding order the parents must be summonsed to attend the proceedings on the laying of the complaint.
d. Where a parent fails to attend
14.6 Where one or both parents do not attend and there is no reasonable explanation this may lend weight to an existing recommendation for a Parenting Order. Where there has been no recommendation for a Parenting Order, particularly if there were a pattern of non-attendance without valid reasons, then the court may consider whether there is now sufficient evidence for an order. Alternatively, the court may consider whether the Youth Offending Service should be asked to re-assess the need for an order and return to the court at a later date with a recommendation (if proceedings involving the child have not been completed) or an application for a free standing order (if proceedings have already been completed).

15. Explaining the Order to the Parent

15.1 Before making a Parenting Order the court must explain clearly to the parent or guardian the effect of the order and of its requirements; the consequences which may follow if he or she fails to comply with any of them; and that the court has the power to review the order on the application of the parent or guardian or of the responsible officer.
15.2 A Parenting Order can be made in the parent’s absence but the court will have to find an alternative way to comply with the requirement of s15 (1) before it can make the order.
15.3 The court may include one or more parent in an order or issue separate orders to different parents or guardians. All parents or guardians named in the order should be given a copy.

16. Requirements of a Parenting Order

a. Parenting Programme
16.1 This element will normally be the core of the Parenting Order and must (unless the parent has previously received a Parenting Order) be imposed in all cases where an order is made. This part of the order can last for up to three months. The arrangements should be as flexible as possible and take account of programme availability and timing.

The court will need to decide the length of the order and this needs to allow sufficient time for:

  • Assessing parents;
  • Any individual work needed to prepare the parent for the programme;
  • Any waiting time before the programme can start;
  • The programme itself;
  • The time any specific requirements should run.
16.3 Compliance with the programme must be monitored.
b. Specific Requirements
16.4 Specific requirements may be placed upon the parent or guardian as the court may feel desirable in the interests of preventing any repetition of the behaviour, which led to the child’s appearance in court. Such requirements are discretionary and can last for up to 12 months from the date the order is made.

The requirements need to be tailored to address the problems which led to the Parenting Order and should if possible be linked to any requirements of any order imposed on the child. For example they could include requiring the parent to ensure that child:

  • Attends school or other relevant educational activities;
  • Avoids contact with disruptive and possibly older children;
  • Avoids certain areas unsupervised;
  • Is home during certain hours of night and is effectively supervised.
16.6 It is important when the case-older is considering what requirements to propose to the court, that due consideration is given to what is appropriate, necessary, feasible and measurable, particularly given the existence of the breach process.
c. Residential Requirement

A Parenting Order can include a residential course but only if two conditions are met:

  • That the attendance of the parent or guardian at a residential course is likely to be more effective than their attendance at a non-residential course in preventing their child from engaging in a repetition of the behaviour which led to the making of the order; and
  • That any likely interference with family life is proportionate in all the circumstances.
16.8 This is designed to ensure that residential requirements are made only where proportionate under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights – right to respect for private and family life.
16.9 In recommending a Parenting Order with a residential component the Youth Offending Service must provide evidence that these conditions are met. An example would be where the parent’s home life is so chaotic that they need a structured setting where sustained counselling and guidance can be undertaken.
16.10 For the court to decide whether any likely interference with family life is proportionate the Youth Offending Service will need to explain the programme. This need not be continuous; a small number of residential weekends structured within a wider non-residential programme may be suitable. Arrangements for the care of the child (and any siblings and dependants) will be a crucial consideration. Voluntary attendance by the child and siblings may be desirable as intensive family work can be particularly effective.

17. Operation of the Order

17.1 Where a Parenting Order is made in court, the responsible officer’s name will be formally recorded on the order, as will the requirements. This will usually be the parenting officer.
17.2 The first appointment between the responsible officer and the parent should take place before the end of the next working day after the order is made. It will be an opportunity for the responsible officer to provide the parent/guardian with a copy of the order, explain further its nature, purpose and how it will work in practice. The practical details of the requirements will need to be set out in a written plan, the monitoring arrangements described and the consequences of failure to comply with any requirements explained.
17.3 Where counselling/guidance sessions are being provided by someone other than the responsible officer, a pre-meeting between the parent and that person should take place no more than two weeks before the sessions are due to start.
17.4 Whilst the requirements of the Parenting Order are in force, the responsible officer should maintain good regular contact with the parent or guardian. This will enable the responsible officer to determine the extent to which the parent or guardian is complying with the requirements.
17.5 Where the requirements of the order have been met, the responsible officer must meet with the parents to evaluate the order before closing the case.

18. Variation/Discharge

18.1 These can be made at the application of the responsible officer or the parent/guardian to the court, which imposed the original order. Application is by complaint
18.2 The order may be varied either by inserting in the order (in addition to or in substitution for any of it’s provisions) any provision that could have been included at the time the order was made, or by cancelling any provision included in it. For example where the family moves to another area, or requirements are proving difficult to comply with through no fault of the parent/guardian.
18.3 These are civil procedures and are governed by sections 51-57 of the Magistrates Courts Act 1980 and Rules 4 and 98 of the 1981 rules. These sections and rules deal with, amongst other things, the issuing of summonses and the non-appearance of parties.
18.4 An order may be discharged if the parent has complied fully with the requirements and the behaviour of the child has improved. Where an application for the discharge of a Parenting Order has been dismissed, no further application can be made without the court’s consent.

19. Breach Arrangement

19.1 If different from the responsible officer, the programme provider should immediately report any failure by the parent to attend the parenting programme for appropriate action to be taken.
19.2 The responsible officer will need to consider how to monitor other specific requirements, for example liaison with the school re attendance or with the police re any exclusion areas or involvement in anti-social behaviour.
19.3 Where there is apparent failure to comply with a requirement of the order this should be followed up within one working day with a visit, telephone call or where these are not practicable by letter. Where there is no acceptable reason for the non-compliance, the parent/guardian will be given a written warning and if possible a warning in person.
19.4 If the parent has good reason for the failure to comply with the requirements of the order, it may be appropriate for the responsible officer to apply to the court for the terms of the order to be varied.
19.5 In the event of more than one unacceptable failure to comply within a period of three months, the responsible officer must arrange a meeting with the parents and any other agencies involved in the delivery of the Parenting Order. The prime aim of the meeting should be to review the order in order to promote its successful completion; however it may be the conclusion of the meeting that the failure to comply should be reported to the police for further investigation. A written record should be kept of all decisions made.
19.6 The agency originally involved in the making of the order should be notified where the matter is being referred to the police for an investigation.

Police investigations into the breach of Parenting Orders will be carried out by the police officer seconded to the Youth Offending Service or, in their absence, a deputising officer in the Youth and Community section of the Police. The responsible officer will provide a statement to the police officer, detailing the evidence. The points to be proved are;

  • A Parenting Order is in force;
  • The person to be reported is the person against who the order was made;
  • Specified directions have been given by the responsible officer;
  • The parent named is aware of those directions;
  • The parent named has failed to comply with those directions and;
  • There is no reasonable excuse for failure to comply with those directions.
19.8 The police officer will visit the parent who will be told of the allegation and cautioned; they will be advised that they are not under arrest and are not obliged to remain with the officer. They will be invited to respond and, if after the response, there is sufficient evidence whereby there is a greater chance of conviction than acquittal the officer will report the parent for the offence to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
19.9 It will be the CPS who will determine whether or not to bring a prosecution. The CPS will have to be satisfied that there is sufficient evidence to prosecute and whether it is in the public interest to do so, having due regard to all the circumstances. Where the order was made in the family proceedings court, the CPS will only have access to the court papers with the leave of the relevant justice’s clerk or the court.
19.10 Failure to comply with a Parenting Order is not an arrestable offence for the purposes of the Crime and Disorder Act 1984. 

If a prosecution is brought there will be a hearing at the magistrates’ court, except where the parent/guardian is under 18. The offence is not recordable for the purposes of PACE. If the parent is convicted the court may:

  • Impose a fine not exceeding level 3 (up to £1,000);
  • Give an absolute or conditional discharge;
  • Make a Probation Order;
  • Make a Curfew Order.

The imposition of a community sentence would be subject to the restrictions set out in sections 6 and 7 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991.

20. Appeals


The court dealing with an appeal against a Parenting Order will depend on the circumstances or proceedings in which the order was originally made. Thus:

  • Child Safety Order - the Divisional Court of the Queen’s Bench division;
  • Referral Orders, Anti Social Behaviour Order or Sex Offender Order – Crown Court;
  • Other Youth Court convictions – Crown Court;
  • Crown Court – Court of Appeal.

21. Legal Services

21.1 Funding for legal representation in court proceedings related to Child Safety Orders, Anti Social Behaviour Orders or Sex Offender Orders or criminal proceedings in the Crown Court, will be considered by the Legal Services Commission and will be subject to specified criteria under the Funding Code.
21.2 Where a Parenting Order is being made in a youth court, court granted advice and assistance is available. Such advice is also available when an application is made to vary or discharge a Parenting Order made in such proceedings. In proceedings for failure to comply with, or appeal against a Parenting Order made in youth court proceedings, right to representation subject to the usual tests is available.
21.3 The right to representation subject to the usual tests is available where an order is made in education proceedings, and where variation, discharge, breach or appeal proceedings are being heard.